Skip to main content

Three-year-old Zahar Murad waves flags as she watches the annual Canada Day parade in Montreal, Monday, July 1, 2013.Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press

New population projections for Canada paint a picture of growing diversity, in all parts of the country.

Nearly half of the population will likely be immigrants or children of immigrants by 2036 if current immigration levels continue, a Statistics Canada study estimates, up from 38.2 per cent in 2011.

The projections come as immigration has become a hot-button issue, particularly south of the border, where U.S. President Donald Trump plans to curb immigration and this week signed a directive to build a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico.

Canada has maintained or increased its immigration levels – even through the last recession. In the year to last July, this country received the highest number of newcomers since comparable record-keeping began. In the coming year, the federal government has said it plans to hold immigration levels steady.

Newcomers have accounted for a growing share of Canada's population since the 1990s, amid steady immigration levels, increasing numbers of deaths and low fertility rates. In the coming years, analysts predict that the only growth in the country's labour force will be from immigration.

Statscan crunched the numbers using scenarios for immigration levels that ranged from low to high. All scenarios showed that the share of immigrants is set to grow – in all provinces and territories – in the coming decades.

The share of immigrants in the population in 2036 "could be almost twice as high as in 1871," the agency said.

Yasmeen Abu-Laban, a political-science professor at the University of Alberta who studies migration and multiculturalism, said that the Statscan projections were in line with Canadian demographic trends dating back to the late 1960s.

"This is just Canada being more Canada," she said. "With the Brexit discussion in Britain, there was a real backlash against immigration. And we haven't seen anything like that in Canada."

Still, Dr. Abu-Laban warned against becoming complacent, noting that the wave of xenophobia that was washed over the United States and much of Europe came suddenly.

"I worry about those trends because I think no one is immune to them," she said.

A growing share of immigrants means Canada will be more diverse, with more visible minorities, more non-Christian religions and more people who speak languages other than English and French as a mother tongue, Statscan demographer Jean-Dominique Morency said in an interview.

"In the largest cities, like Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver, it's already very diverse – but they will be more and more diverse in the next 25 years," he said. This is the case "not only in the large cities but also in all parts of the country … in all provinces, the proportion of immigrants in the population would increase."

The immigrant population will still be concentrated in Canada's largest cities: Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver. Toronto will see the country's highest share of immigrants in its population, at between 46 per cent and 52.8 per cent.

The composition of the immigrant population will also shift. More than half of immigrants in Canada would be Asian-born by 2036, if recent trends continue, from 44.8 per cent in 2011. At the same time, the share of European immigrants will decline by about half, to about 16 per cent.

More people will belong to a visible-minority group. In the next two decades, the share of the working-age population (aged 15 to 64) who are members of a visible minority will reach up to 40 per cent, from 19.6 per cent in 2011. This share will grow in all parts of the country, the paper said, adding that South Asians will remain the group with the most people, followed by Chinese.

In some cities – Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary and Winnipeg, visible minorities could become the majority.

The total share of immigrants in Canada's population is expected to reach up to 30 per cent, which would be the highest share since 1871, from 20.7 per cent in 2011. Canada already has one of the highest shares of foreign-born people in the developed world.

The paper shows a changing portrait of Canada, which has its 150th anniversary this year. Its first census, conducted in 1871, showed 16 per cent of the country's 3.7 million population was born abroad. Most immigrants at the time came from the British Isles, the United States and Germany.

Canada may also become more secular. The share of people who report having no religion will continue to grow, to about a third of the population compared with 24 per cent in 2011. Catholicism will likely remain the religion with the largest number of followers, the agency said. At the same time, the number of people affiliated with non-Christian religions will reach about 15 per cent of the population, from 9 per cent now.

The projections are based on population models from the 2011 National Household Survey. These projections are not predictions, the agency cautions, but rather "a tool to show how the ethnocultural and language compositions of the Canadian population could evolve in [the] coming years based on various growth scenarios."

The visible minority projections do not include the aboriginal population. A previous Statscan projection to 2036 found the share of indigenous people in the population will grow to between 4.6 per cent and 6.1 per cent, from 4.4 per cent in the last census.

With a report from Eric Andrew-Gee

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

Follow the author of this article:

Check Following for new articles

Interact with The Globe