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A gaze into the future shows Toronto will be Canada's powerhouse of population growth and job creation in the next decade.

But surprising upstart Barrie, Ont., will be the fastest growing in the nation.

Barrie, which boasts about its low housing costs, technology industry jobs and scenic location, is expected to expand in population by as much as 5 per cent a year. Ninety kilometres north of Toronto's centre, it is near the rapidly spreading edge of the city's sprawling outskirts. The nearest contenders -- Vancouver, Kelowna and Victoria, B.C., and Calgary -- will all grow by at least 3.4 per cent a year, according to a survey of trends by Strategic Projections Inc.

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The study paints a picture of an increasingly urban future.

"The ever-increasing concentration of Canada's population in its major metropolitan areas is rapidly shifting both the political and economic power bases of the country. And it's not clear anyone has really noticed," Strategic Projections president Tom McCormack said.

Mr. McCormack noted that seven large cities -- Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Calgary, Ottawa-Hull, Winnipeg and Edmonton -- already account for 45 per cent of Canada's population. They will account for 75 per cent of the population growth in the coming decade.

This rapidly expanding population poses urgent problems for planners, as housing, transportation and social services come under pressure.

For instance, Toronto and the Golden Horseshoe around the west end of Lake Ontario will have to create homes and parking for an average of 104,000 extra people each year.

"With geographic concentration comes concentrations of social need," said Anne Golden, president of the United Way of Greater Toronto and chief author of a task force on the housing crunch facing the poor.

On the bright side, the study found that extended regions that cross international borders have become significant markets for goods and services.

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Free trade with the United States has been a boon for Toronto and Vancouver, which were among the five fastest-growing areas in North America in the 1990s.

The Toronto metropolitan area grew faster during the 1990s than Atlanta or Dallas, which were considered areas of rapid growth in the United States.

Toronto and the Golden Horseshoe now have a combined population of 6.6 million. Only the metropolitan areas of Los Angeles, at 16.2 million, and New York, at 20.4 million, are larger in the United States.

The Seattle and Vancouver metropolitan areas taken together account for 5.7 million people, ranking 10th among metropolitan zones of the two countries, just behind Boston and ahead of Dallas.

The Tomorrow's Markets Today 2000 study predicts the future of 34 major Canadian urban areas based on recent trends.

Success depends on more than just people or dollars, so each area is rated on 20 different factors Mr. McCormack calls the "measure of dynamism." The factors include education levels, per capita income, job creation and attractiveness to immigrants.

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Calgary ranked first with an overall grade of 84 per cent out of 100.

Toronto scored second with an overall grade of 81. Two other Ontario cities, Oshawa and Kitchener, ranked next at 74 per cent and 73 per cent respectively. Edmonton was close behind, followed by Ottawa-Hull and Vancouver, which shared sixth place. Halifax was eighth, and Winnipeg and London, Ont., rounded out the top 10.

The lowest-ranked areas included Trois-Rivières and Chicoutimi-Jonquière in Quebec, and Brantford and Peterborough in Ontario. Cape Breton ranked last, with a score of 12 per cent.

CANADIAN CITIES NOW AND THEN

                     Projected     % with     Unem-   Income
          Population.population  university  ployment   per
               2000       2010     degrees     rate   household
Barrie       134,832    195,750     10.1       8.3%   $74,737
Calgary      938,777  1,152,972     18.5       5.1     84,998
Halifax      345,551    406,046     19.1       6.2     67,859
Montreal   3,400,766  3,963,910     15.4       8.2     61,409
Toronto    4,643,208  5,606,294     19.0       6.0     87,898
Vancouver  1,993,647  2,552,975     17.5       6.4     72,309
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