B.C. nets ‘impressive’ population growth

After faltering early during the pandemic, population growth in Canada’s large urban markets regained their mojo as immigration returned with a vengeance.

On a July-to-July basis, Canada’s population grew 1.8 per cent or 703,000 people, with B.C. up an even more impressive 2.2 per cent. The recent release of sub-provincial data showed large metro markets driving the gains.

Census metropolitan areas (CMAs), which have populations of 100,000 or more people, grew 2.1 per cent compared to a meagre 0.5 per cent in 2021 and 1.3 per cent in 2020. This was led by Moncton (5.4 per cent) and Halifax (4.5 per cent).

B.C.’s CMAs compared favourably. Vancouver’s population jumped by 2.8 per cent after a 0.8 per cent gain the prior year. This was a near 78,000-person increase and the strongest rate of growth since at least 2000. Kelowna’s population also expanded at a breakneck pace amidst large inflows of interprovincial migrants and a rebound in international flows. Population growth accelerated from 2.4 per cent in 2021 to 2.8 per cent in 2022. Abbotsford-Mission grew 1.5 per cent while Victoria grew 2.2 per cent.

B.C.’s smaller urban areas, which outperformed early in the pandemic due to the exodus from larger cities driven by a desire for space and remote-work options, continued to expand. The strongest population growth among all metro and small urban markets was recorded in Squamish, which grew 3.8 per cent or nearly 1,000 people. Proximity to Metro Vancouver, recreational demand and growth in amenities is driving people to the area. Areas seeing fast growth also included Chilliwack (2.2 per cent), Vernon (1.9 per cent) and Kamloops (1.9 per cent), which have relatively affordable housing alternatives in proximity to the metro regions. Growth remained weaker in northern markets, including Quesnel (-0.5 per cent), Fort St. John (-0.2 per cent) and Prince George (0.3 per cent).

Broadly, communities across B.C. have experienced strong growth in population following the early shocks of the pandemic. Large urban markets specifically are experiencing swelling growth due to immigration, a trend that extended into the second half of 2022. Strong population growth will continue to support demand for consumer goods and services as well as housing in the coming years, while also providing some relief for the tight labour market as these individuals look for jobs.

Total B.C. dollar volume building permits fell by 12.6 per cent in November – below the 12-month trend and marking a fourth straight monthly decline. The value of non-residential permits declined 23.2 per cent in November, while residential permit volumes were 8.6 per cent lower.

The largest decrease in non-residential permit volumes was in commercial permits, which were 33.9 per cent lower than the previous month, falling to $263 million from $399 million – the lowest volume seen since February 2022. Industrial dollar volume permits were down 6.9 per cent in November over the previous month and 25 per cent below the trailing 12-month average. Institutional and government permits were essentially flat, up only 0.8 per cent in November over the previous month.

Total permit volumes in the B.C. metropolitan areas were down 13.7 per cent. Metro Vancouver saw a 19.8 per cent decrease to $1.2 billion, Kelowna saw a 51.5 per cent increase to $139 million, and Abbotsford-Mission saw a 23.4 per cent decrease to $45.9 million, in line with Victoria’s 22.2 per cent decrease, dropping to $124 million.

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