B.C.’s population continues to grow

New residents continued to flow into the province in the third quarter, driving population growth of 0.5% from the second quarter to a record 4.84 million.

Year-over-year, Q3 population swelled by more than 62,000 or 1.3%. Net interprovincial inflows reached 12,800, alongside net permanent international migrants of 23,700, and nearly 20,000 net non-permanent residents. 

Top-line population growth has generally changed little in recent quarters, but drivers have shifted. The contribution of interprovincial migration is waning. Despite a tight labour market and strong economic growth in B.C., net interprovincial migration slumped to 543 in Q3, marking the weakest same quarter since 2012. Adjusting for seasonal factors, levels have decelerated since 2016’s second half. This can be attributed to improved economic growth in higher-paying Alberta and Ontario, limiting the draw of B.C. as a destination.

In contrast, international migration has risen, owing more to a net increase in the number of non-permanent residents, which has likely reflected higher refugee and humanitarian intake. Many of these individuals will be reclassified as permanent immigrants as time progresses.

Slowing of interprovincial migration and fewer entries on humanitarian grounds are expected to lower population growth to 1% in 2018 and 2019.

B.C. tourism remains strong, bolstered by a 12% rise in international visitors in 2016 and another solid gain of about 3% in 2017. This, along with domestic visits, has helped raise hotel occupancy rates to their highest level since the 2010 Winter Olympics, elevate average room rates and boost employment in related service sectors.

That said, provincial data lacks information about where these economic gains may be dispersed. Luckily, BC Stats reports estimates of room revenue based on municipal and regional district taxes.

Cumulative 12-month revenue data through November 2017 relative to the same period in 2014 suggests the strongest gains were on Vancouver Island, with revenue up 45% over the period. Revenue rose 30% in Victoria and 33% in Parksville, with the aggregate Central and North Island showing sharp increases.

Lower Mainland-Southwest room revenue rose 37%, with Whistler up 39% over the same period. Thompson Okanagan room revenue rose about 20%, while available data from the Rockies – which includes the Kootenay, Revelstoke and Columbia Shuswap – pointed to a 35% increase over the period.

Bryan Yu is deputy chief economist at Central 1 Credit Union.