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Don Kerr: Canada’s population growth is exploding. Here’s why


As a professional demographer who has carefully followed Canada’s demographic evolution over the past three decades, I am shocked by some of the most recent demographic data released by Statistics Canada. From 1991 through to 2015, the year in which the current government was first elected, the annual growth in Canada’s population grew in a predictable manner at an average of roughly 320,000 persons per year. 

Following 2015, that growth has rapidly accelerated. Following a temporary dip in population growth due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, Canada’s population growth reached just over half a million in 2021 (509,285 persons), close to a million in 2022 (930,422), and then an astronomical 1.27 million persons in 2023. 

Put another way, whereas for several decades Canada’s population growth rate hovered at about 1.0 percent annually, this rate has more than tripled in a few short years, up to 3.2 percent in 2023. 

In even starker terms, the 2023 rate of population growth is like adding a new Saskatchewan to Canada’s total population in slightly less than a single calendar year. As of 2023, there is not a single country in the G7 or in the OECD that has a population growth rate even close to Canada’s. Population growth in the U.S., for comparison, is currently at about 0.5 percent. Even prior to the recent upturn, Canada’s rate of population growth was actually the highest in the G7 and among the highest in the OECD. 

Most astoundingly, in making international comparisons, Statistics Canada now points out that Canada in 2023 is among the 20 fastest-growing countries in the world, ranked beside several very high fertility countries, largely situated in sub-Saharan Africa. While Canada’s current population growth of 3.2 percent is obviously not sustainable, a constant growth rate of 3.3 percent would imply a doubling in Canada’s total population in under 25 years.

The last time Canada saw a growth rate comparable to this was fully 67 years ago. In 1957, Canada was close to the height of its baby boom, with a birth rate close to four births per woman. Slowly over decades this growth rate gradually declined as fertility rates fell (no abrupt shifts here).While Canada is witnessing a population growth not seen for almost seven decades, its total fertility rate has fallen to an unprecedented low, down to only 1.33 births per woman in 2022, a number far below replacement (of just over two births per woman), or what demographers have labelled “ultra-low fertility.”  

Most recently, Canada’s growth has almost entirely been the result of international migration (97.6 percent) as the rate of natural increase (births minus deaths) has continued to decline steadily. Hence, the pace at which Canada’s population grows, in a predictable manner, can be seen as a function of Canada’s immigration policy—meaning, then, that this is a policy problem that the federal government, in consultation with the provinces, can solve itself by setting and regulating immigration targets. This includes both permanent immigration (economic, family, and refugee classes) as well as the increase in non-permanent residents (international students, temporary work permits, and asylum claimants). 

The question remains as to how we have gotten into this situation in the first place. When Sean Fraser was first appointed to the Trudeau cabinet as immigration minister in the fall of 2021, Canada’s growth rate was roughly 1 percent. By the time he was shifted from immigration to housing and infrastructure in the summer of 2023, Canada’s growth rate had climbed to its current heights. As many commenters have pointed out, it is somewhat ironic that the minister appointed to fix the issue of housing affordability was the minister of immigration who allowed this unprecedented growth in population. 

In the summer of 2023 when Canada’s population was growing at a rate that had not been seen for almost 70 years, Fraser attempted to downplay the link between population growth and rising housing costs, saying that the solution to the country’s housing woes should not involve closing the door to newcomers. 

The data from both Statistics Canada and the Canadian Housing and Mortgage Corporation (CMHC) belie the minister’s baffling assertion. Canada’s demographic growth has clearly outpaced its housing stock. Coming out of the pandemic, housing starts climbed to 271,000 in 2021, the highest number recorded for half a century, only to drop slightly in 2022 and 2023. In total, Canada witnessed about 800,000 housing starts over the 2021-2023 period, whereas over this same period, Canada’s population grew by over 2.5 million. The fact that the CMHC forecasts fewer than 224,000 starts in 2024 and only 232,000 in 2025 does not bode well for housing affordability in Canada, particularly in the context of continuing rapid population growth. 

Having said all this, it seems that the federal government has finally woken up to this issue and is now committed to reducing this growth. Current immigration minister, Marc Miller, has made overtures towards slowing Canada’s population growth—even potentially back down to historically sustainable levels. Most importantly, Miller recently announced that the proportion of “non-permanent residents” (NPRs) in Canada will be reduced from its current level of fully 6.2 percent of the total Canadian population down to 5.0 percent over the next three years. For context, NPRs were only about 3.1 percent of Canada’s population in 2021.By NPRs, the federal government is referring to international students, persons in Canada on temporary work permits, as well as asylum claimants.

As the government has already capped and reduced the number of international students, a sizeable share of this reduction will occur among persons with temporary work permits. Over 60 percent of Canada’s population growth in 2023 was a by-product of the increase in the number of NPRs. If immediately implemented, Canada could shift from admitting an additional 800,000 NPRs in 2023 to seeing a decline in the number of NPRs by perhaps -160,000 in 2024 (serving to reduce Canada’s rate of growth). Merely with this reform, and continuing with its current commitment to welcoming roughly half a million landed immigrants yearly over the next several years, Canada’s growth rate could return to sanity. The issue remains as to how successful the government will be in implementing this reform.

The dramatic shift in Canada’s rate of population growth has inevitably had important consequences, and not all of them positive. Take, for example, the increasing strain on the country’s already-burdened health and social services. In policy terms, a steady, gradual upturn in population growth is far better for planning future labour force, housing, and infrastructure needs.

Overall, Canada will be well served into the future by returning to and maintaining a predictable rate of population growth and avoiding the rather abrupt shifts experienced most recently. A majority of Canadians have long been supportive of Canadian immigration policy. The recent mishandling of this file has jeopardized this consensus. Hopefully not irreparably. 

Mathew Giagnorio: Why an Ontario chief librarian was fired for her thought crimes


What is the purpose of a public library? It is a local gateway to the world and all the knowledge that it contains. It is a sanctuary of the written word and a cornerstone of civic life and the community it serves. It provides a foundation for lifelong learning, curiosity, and independent critical decision-making, along with the personal, social, and cultural development of individuals and social groups. 

Participation in and the development of a robust democracy in a diverse and open liberal society is contingent on unrestricted access to education and knowledge, thought, culture, and information. In engaging with this content, we must have the intellectual freedom to refute, question, and debate topics. 

The role of the librarian is a steward and protector of this public space. They must allow for equal access to the knowledge it houses. That knowledge should be eclectic, inspiring, insightful, and provocative.

The wonderful thing about a library is that if you don’t like a particular book, you are not obligated to read it. There are plenty of books to choose from. 

This approach to free thought was not the case in the shameful dismissal of Cathy Simpson, chief librarian, and CEO of Niagara-on-the-Lake Public Library. The treatment she endured demonstrates a complete disregard for viewpoint diversity demanded in the forum of the public library. 

Simpson wrote a column entitled “Censorship and what we are allowed to read: public libraries should be home to many viewpoints, not just progressive ones” for a local newspaper. It was published, ironically, on February 22nd  during the “Freedom to Read Week,” an annual event that encourages Canadians to think about and reaffirm their commitment to intellectual freedom, which they are guaranteed under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It also happened during the Toronto Public Library’s intellectual freedom series.

It was a column I would have written myself, and I commend her for doing so. In it, she addresses genuine concerns about hidden censorship in libraries that amounts to a selective defence of books and authors based on the valour of victimhood. She also raised the narrowing of book choices which now dare not diverge from what is now deemed absolute truth. If they are questioned, the questioner faces strong political forces that will be out to get them. “Viewpoints that don’t conform to progressive agendas are rarely represented in library collections and anyone who challenges this is labelled a bigot,” she wrote. “We ask our colleagues to ensure ‘Freedom to Read Week’ does not become ‘Freedom to Read What We Decide You Should Read Week.’”

Shortly after Simpson’s article came out, Matthew French, a resident of Niagara-on-the-Lake, wrote a response letter that served anything but an intelligent rebuttal to the views presented. It reads largely like a hit piece designed to cast Mrs. Simpson as persona non grata and damage her emotionally and financially, leaving her reputation in shambles. He implies she’d be open to the discrimination of gay people and denying the Holocaust. 

What I find most amusing is that instead of responding to Simpson’s article and presenting arguments, he instead chose to smear her. He actually proved her points by claiming in fact that her balanced views proposing library neutrality and the freedom to read, and her association with the Foundation Against Intolerance and Racism (FAIR), are horrid “far-right” American talking points.

Now, when you think of far-right folks, do you think about people like Shadi Hamid, a respected professor of Islamic studies and Washington Post columnist? How about respected New York University psychologist and author  Jonathan Haidt? What about Daryl Davis who is a musician, author, actor, and lecturer noted for “having interviewed hundreds of KKK members and other white supremacists and influencing many of them to renounce their racist ideology”? Davis is a Black man, by the way. 

Or wait, maybe you think of someone like Andrew Sullivan. He’s a writer, blogger, and author whose 1989 landmark essay “Here Comes The Groom,” made the first real case to conservatives for gay marriage in the U.S..  He was an influential force in the American Supreme Court’s decision to legalize gay marriage less than four decades later. He’s also gay. All these people sit on FAIR’s board of advisors.

Or maybe you think of someone like Monica Harris who is an activist, lawyer who graduated from Harvard and worked with Barack Obama, and author who “advocates for balanced, common-sense solutions to systemic problems based on our shared values and goals.” She is a gay Black woman. She’s also the executive director of FAIR.

Graphic novels have their own shelf at the Marshall Public Library in Marshall, Mo., Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2006. Orlin Wagner/AP Photo.

I find it frightening yet unsurprising that Simpson’s article, which calls for a return to liberalism,   was labelled as  “right-wing dog whistles” because it did not adhere to the current tribal doctrines whereby you must give absolute obedience to one side. 

We now live in a world where these sides of the political spectrum have drifted to become so far apart from one another; where any deviation of thought from either side’s tribal doctrine is seen as “extreme,” and where the person who espouses it must be branded as an undesirable and banished from the public square. The letter that French wrote was just that: a signal of absolute obedience to his tribe, and an effort to brand Simpson as an undesirable who must be banished.

We are living in a world where books, authors, and even librarians are being removed because they do not ascribe to the absolutist ideas of the Right and Left; where you must obey the sacred tenets of your “side” or “tribe.” Attempts to ban and censor have become mainstream. 

Over the years, in our Canadian school libraries and public libraries, books such as The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, Maus by Art Spiegelman, Underground To Canada by Barbara Smucker, The Wars by Timothy Findley, The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman, Salma Writes a Book by Danny Ramadan have all been the targets of some form of censorship and calls for removal. Some are still being targeted today.

Books are art. So, like any piece of art, there will be people who are going to like them and people who won’t. However, that doesn’t mean that we must then not make it available to everybody else. If we start removing works deemed controversial because of their themes or their authors from the shelves of public libraries, school libraries, and bookstores, then we are restricting people’s ability to engage with those topics. We are depriving them of topics that challenge their perspectives; topics beyond the ones that make them feel comfortable.