indicatorThe Twenty-Four

Calgary posts explosive population growth

But population growth was also strong in other parts of the province

By Rob Roach, ATB Economics 23 May 2024 4 min read

If you are a regular reader of The Owl, you know that Alberta’s population has been going gangbusters, setting a number of records and outpacing the country as a whole.

Just this week we shared our analysis of how the relatively less expensive housing options are contributing to Alberta attracting residents from more expensive markets in B.C. and Ontario.

You may, in turn, be wondering why we haven’t been examining how this growth has been playing out within Alberta. It’s not because it doesn’t matter where the growth is occurring; it’s because the population estimates for “subprovincial areas” only became available from Statistics Canada yesterday. These estimates, moreover, are only up to July 1 of last year.

Despite being a year out of date, the numbers tell a very interesting story with many facets. Today’s Owl zeros in on Alberta’s four largest urban areas, but we will examine other parts of the story in future Owls, including a feature in tomorrow’s Wrap on Alberta’s smaller centres.

As we suspected from other data sources such as the monthly Labour Force Survey, Alberta’s population growth has not been evenly spread across the province.

Over the 12 months from the end of the June 2022 to the start of July 2023, the census metropolitan area (CMA)* of Calgary posted the strongest growth among Alberta’s large centres in both absolute and percentage terms.

Already Alberta’s largest urban area, Calgary added almost 96,000 new residents last year to reach just under 1.7 million. This translates into an annual growth rate of 6.0% and over half of Alberta’s total growth. For context, Calgary’s average growth rate over the previous 10 years was a more modest 2.0%.

Looking beyond Alberta, only two Canadian CMAs grew at a slightly faster clip than Calgary last year: Kitchener-Cambridge-Waterloo and Moncton, both at 6.1% (see the first chart below).

The Edmonton CMA also posted strong numbers, growing by 63,000 to hit almost 1.6 million residents. With an annual growth rate of 4.2%, Edmonton beat the average across all CMAs of 3.5% and tied with Vancouver and Peterborough for fifth place in the list of fastest growing CMAs.

The pace of growth was slower in Alberta’s two other CMAs with both Lethbridge and Red Deer growing by 3.4%.

Sources of growth

Alberta’s CMAs are gaining residents from a variety of sources, but non-permanent residents (NPRs) was the largest category last year. In Calgary, the net gain from NPRs accounted for 36% of total growth followed by net interprovincial migration (28%) and net international immigration (27%) (see the second chart below). Natural increase (births less deaths) contributed 8% while net moves within Alberta (i.e., intraprovincial migration) accounted for 1% Calgary’s growth.

It was a similar pattern in Edmonton, but with the gain from international migration a little higher than the increase from interprovincial flows. Intraprovincial migration was somewhat more important in Edmonton, adding almost 3,100 residents (5% of total growth).

International immigration played a smaller role in Red Deer (9% of total growth) and Lethbridge (12%), but the net gain from NPRs from other countries accounted for almost half of Red Deer’s growth and over a third of Lethbridge’s.

The (demographic) bottom line

That’s a lot of numbers! (And there are more where they came from.) What have we learned from this regional breakdown of Alberta’s population growth?

Three things:

1) Ideally, we’d have data on hand up to the first quarter of this year, but at least we can confirm that the “guesstimate” that Calgary was experiencing a disproportionate amount of Alberta’s population increase last year (52% of the growth versus 36% of the provincial population).

2) The uneven nature of the growth means that—all other things being equal—the pros and cons of the burst in population is having an outsized impact on Calgary. We can, for example, see this in the stronger growth in benchmark home prices in Calgary (a pro for sellers, a con for buyers).

3) Looking beyond the spotlight-grabbing growth seen in Calgary, population growth in Alberta’s other three CMAs was strong and higher than the average over the previous five years. This was also the case for most areas outside the CMAs.

*A census metropolitan area (CMA) is formed by one or more adjacent municipalities centred on a population centre (known as the core). A CMA must have a total population of at least 100,000, based on data from the current Census of Population Program, of which 50,000 or more must live in the core based on adjusted data from the previous Census of Population Program. To be included in the CMA, other adjacent municipalities must have a high degree of integration with the core, as measured by commuting flows derived from data on place of work from the previous Census Program.

Answer to the previous trivia question: Canada’s Trade Unions Act dates back to 1872. The Act gave workers the right to associate in trade unions.

Today’s trivia question: What is the population of the Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington Metro Area?

The CMA of Calgary added almost 96,000 residents last year (as of July 1) for a growth rate of 6.0%

The CMA of Calgary added almost 96,000 residents last year (as of July 1) for a growth rate of 6.0%

Non-permanent residents from outside Canada played a larger role in the population growth of Alberta's four CMAs last year

Non-permanent residents from outside Canada played a larger role in the population growth of Alberta's four CMAs last year

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