Ontarians on the Move, 2022 Edition. #3 -Increased immigration targets played only a minor role in Ontario’s population growth

Third in (what I hope) will be a series on population growth, migration, and what’s going on with Ontario’s housing market.

TL;DR: Ontario’s population grew rapidly between 2015–19. While ‘increased immigration targets’ are cited as the primary factor, they only contributed about 15–20% of Ontario’s increased population growth.

I feel like both a success and a failure when it comes to the ongoing discourse on demographics, population growth, and housing demand.

I feel like a success in that we’ve seen the provincial conversation recognize the role that increased population growth has played in Ontario’s housing shortages.

I feel like a failure, because I read, over and over again, that “Ontario’s population growth increased because the federal government increased immigration targets.”

Now, it’s true, increased immigration targets contributed to Ontario’s population growth. I mean, they had to. That’s the whole point of increased immigration targets. But they only play a minor, secondary role.

Let’s start by examining Ontario’s population growth. I’ll compare the four-year period of 2015–19 to the previous four-year period of 2011–15. Ontario experienced a rapid, and sudden, change in population growth levels in 2015, as shown below:

Ontario’s population growth levels went from just over 100,000 persons a year to just over 200,000 persons a year. In the four year 2015–19, we added 391,846 persons than we did in the four years before.

So where did those extra 391,846 people come from? The biggest group, by far, was international students. They are classified as non-permanent residents, though this is a misnomer, as they often eventually apply for permanent residency.

Immigration did play a role, along with interprovincial migration (that is, people moving to Ontario from other provinces). During the oil boom years, Ontario lost people to the rest of Canada. After the oil bust, population flows went in the other direction.

Roughly half of Ontario’s increased population growth can be explained by the international student boom, with immigration and interprovincial migration each contributing nearly to one-quarter of Ontario’s increased population growth.

This overstates the impact of immigration targets, however, because immigration targets are national, and our analysis is provincial. In 2011–15, Canada took in 1,031,824 immigrants, with 398,626 of them settling in Ontario, a ratio of 38.63%. Canadian immigration levels did increase, and by 2015–19, they reached 1,212,825. Had Ontario’s share remained at 38.63%, we would have welcomed 468,552. Instead, 490,335 called Ontario home, a share of 40.4%. In other words, part of Ontario’s immigration increase was due to an increase in the share of immigrants, rather than higher national targets.

Taking this change of share into account, our table now looks as follows:

To summarize, increased immigration targets contributed about roughly 18% to Ontario’s change in population growth after 2015. Increased immigration targets were an important, by secondary, factor.

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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.