Canada’s population growth rate falls to WWI levels in 2020

Shelby Thevenot
Published: March 26, 2021

With an increase in deaths and a decrease in new immigrants, Canada saw its lowest population growth rate since 1916.

In 2020, Canada's population only increased 0.4 per cent, according to Statistics Canada. Population growth has not been this low since the first year of World War I when it was just 0.3 per cent. By the end of 2021, Canada's population had increased by about 149,000, which just slid its population count past the 38 million mark.

There was an increase in the number of deaths last year, about 5 per cent were due to COVID-19. It was also the first time in Canada's recorded history that the number of deaths in Canada surpassed 300,000.

Immigration accounted for 58 per cent of population growth in 2020. Usually, it accounts for about 80 per cent of Canada's growth. Due to travel restrictions and other coronavirus-related measures, the number of new immigrants in 2020 was the lowest it has been since 1998. In 2019, nearly 86 per cent of Canada's population growth was thanks to newcomers. However, it fell by almost half in 2020.

Canada lost more than 86,000 temporary residents last year, which is the largest net loss on record. This is almost entirely due to decreases in the numbers of work and study permit holders.

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Immigration levels increased to make up for 2020 slump

In the fall of 2020, Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino announced that Canada would increase its immigration target to 1.2 million over the next three years. In 2021 alone Canada is aiming to accept 401,000 newcomers.

The increase in immigration targets is a response to the low levels of immigrants admitted in 2020. Immigration is still a priority in Canada, as it helps address the country's demographic challenges, which include an aging labour force and a low birth rate.

With no end in sight to the current travel restrictions that are obstructing immigration, the Liberal government is prioritizing immigrants who are already in Canada to meet its 2021 immigration levels target. Mendicino recently told Bloomberg that with immigration levels stabilizing in January, Canada is currently on track to meet this target.

One of the government's strategies has been to invite more immigration candidates to apply for permanent residence through the Express Entry system. Express Entry is not an immigration program, but it is an electronic system that manages immigration applications. People who want to immigrate to Canada submit their profile to the system, they get a score, and then they may be invited to apply for permanent residence based on their eligibility for any of the programs that are managed by Express Entry.

So far in 2021, the only Express Entry candidates who have been invited to apply are those who may be eligible for the Canadian Experience Class, or those who have received a nomination from a Provincial Nominee Program.

Canada also increased the processing capacity for family class immigration at its Case Processing Centre in Sydney, Nova Scotia. This initiative is meant to help Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada return to its one-year processing standard for spousal sponsorship applications.

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