Ontarians on the Move, 2021 Edition #14 — Over the Next 30 Years, the City of Toronto Should Be Planning to Add 2 Million Residents, not 700,000.

Mike Moffatt
5 min readJun 12, 2021

Fourteenth in (what I hope) will be a series on population growth, migration, and what’s going on with Ontario’s housing market. Previous piece: Ontarians on the Move, 2021 Edition. #13 — Where are Ontario’s International Students Living?

TL;DR version: Ontario’s official plan seeks to grow the City of Toronto’s population by 700,000 between now and 2051. This plan also implicitly calls for 1–1.5 million residents, on net, to leave the City and move to other parts of the province. This is a plan for sprawl and the eventual paving over of the Greenbelt.

Toronto’s planning to add 700,000 new residents between now and 2051. That’s not nearly ambitious enough and will lead to substantial sprawl. Here’s why.

A twitter thread and report by the City of Toronto’s City Planning Division received a fair bit of criticism for being out of touch with the region’s current housing crisis:

I’m not in the business of defending municipal planners, but I’d suggest this criticism is somewhat misplaced, and the City’s analysis is reasonable given the underlying assumptions they’ve been given to work with. The problem is with those assumptions.

Let’s start at this “700,000 more residents” figure. It comes direct from the province’s official Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe:

Toronto’s population, as of July 1, 2020, is around 2.99M, so growing to 3.65M by 2050 would add 660,000 residents in 31 years. So 700,000 in 30 years, is, if anything, a slightly more aggressive target.

These numbers are aligned with the Hemson Report (complete name TECHNICAL REPORT PREPARED BY HEMSON CONSULTING LTD. FOR THE MINISTRY OF MUNICIPAL AFFAIRS AND HOUSING GREATER GOLDEN HORSESHOE: GROWTH FORECASTS TO 2051), which has the city growing to a population of 3.44M to 3.77M by 2050, with a “reference” forecast of 3.65M:

The Hemson report is well written and I encourage everyone interested in housing and demographics to read it. One thing I like about it is how open it is that Ontario’s official plan is a plan for sprawl. This one map shows it all:

Between 2016 and 2051, Hemson is forecasting that 4.5M people, from international sources, will move to the GTAH (Toronto, Durham, York, Peel, Halton and Hamilton). One million people will move from the GTAH to surrounding “outer ring” communities in the Toronto area, which will be matched by almost one million people from the “outer ring” scattering across the province.

This is almost certainly an underestimate given recent increases to Canada’s immigration targets, along with the continued desire of educational students to bring in more international students but it is illustrative of the province’s plans for sprawl (which predate the current provincial government). Here is Hemson’s international migration forecast for the GTAH:

Almost all of the growth in the “outer ring” will come from migration; mostly people moving there from the GTAH, but some from other sources as well:

In short, the “plan” is to have an additional 40,000 people, each year, move to the Toronto area but be nowhere near the CN Tower. Sprawl.

Interestingly, the Ontario Ministry of Finance is projecting Toronto’s population to be 3.73M by 2046, which extrapolates out to 3.86M or so by 2051. Substantially higher than the Growth Plan/Hemson numbers.

One way to understand this population growth plan is to look at the past. Adding 700,000 residents, on net, over the next 30 years is roughly 24,000 people per year. Over the last 19 years, the City’s average population growth has been just over 21,000, and over the last 10 years it has been over 30,000 so on the face of it this is a reasonable, if somewhat conservative, assumption:

However, over those same 19 years, the City has lost nearly 750,000 people, on net, to other parts of Ontario. That is over 39,000 more people, each year, who leave the City of Toronto to other parts of Ontario, than move to other parts of Ontario to Toronto:

Over these 19 years, Toronto has lost, on net, 742,000 people to the rest of Ontario, and gained, on net, 8,500 people from the rest of Canada excluding Ontario.

If there had been no net intraprovincial migration, and as many people in the province moved from Toronto as from it, the City’s population would have grown by 60,000 a year.

This 60,000 figure is a pretty decent, if likely conservative, estimate of what the population growth would be going forward should there not be housing shortages. While “natural” population increases are likely to decrease somewhat, this will be more than offset from the increases in Canada’s immigration targets.

60,000 people a year is 1.8 million over 30 years, a far cry from the plan to add 700,000. Ontario’s plan is to have over 1 million people, on net, leave the City of Toronto due to a shortage of housing and “drive until they qualify” to somewhere they can find someplace to live.

This is not a plan for environmentally sustainable growth, it’s a plan to pave over the Greenbelt because we collectively refuse to build the housing necessary to support Toronto’s growing population. We must do better.



Mike Moffatt

Senior Director, Smart Prosperity. Assistant Prof, Ivey Business School. Exhausted but happy Dad of 2 wonderful kids with autism. I used to do other stuff.