Uneven Population Growth in Southern Ontario

On a simplest level, population trends tend to mirror employment trends at the community or regional levels. Communities experiencing sustained job growth are likely to also experience a net in-migration of workers or new hires. At the opposite end, long lasting periods of economic stagnation tends to lead to persistent outmigration of population especially younger working-age people, a result experienced by several smaller communities and rural areas in Eastern Ontario.

These economic and demographic forces also lead to a circular negative causality seemingly locking smaller and rural communities on a trajectory of continued decline. The outmigration of younger labour force supply lowers for example, the potential level for entrepreneurship. Communities will experience minimal investment in new housing or commercial development while local governments face an eroding property tax base and an aging population.

The following two maps compare population changes for census divisions (CD) in Southern Ontario between two 7-year time periods before and after the 2008 Great Recession. Overall, the population growth rate in the Province of Ontario declined slightly during the 2008-2015 period increasing 7.1% compared to 8.3% from 2001 to 2008.

Population Change in Southern Ontario: 2001-2008

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Population Change in Southern Ontario: 2008-2015

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The two maps show that population growth over both time periods was concentrated in the Greater Toronto Region including Kitchener-Waterloo. This polarized growth appears to be even stronger following 2008 as several CD’s in both Eastern and Southwest Ontario experienced slower and even negative population change.

Percentage Share of Southern Ontario Population by Statistic Canada’s Economic Regions and Census Metropolitan Areas

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Ottawa stands out as the bright spot in Eastern Ontario. Ottawa’s population increased by 10.1% between 2008 and 2015 compared to an increase of 7.7% during the first 7 years. Ottawa’s 10.8% growth rate was exceeded only by the Toronto suburban communities of Halton (16.5%), York (15.3%) and Peel (13.1%). Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry also experienced steady population growth over both time periods relative to other Eastern Ontario CDs which can be largely attributed to the growth of communities like Rockland and Russell attracting families from Ottawa with more affordable housing. On the other hand, the CDs of Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry (includes Cornwall), Leeds and Grenville (includes Brockville) and, Prince Edward experienced population losses – Prince Edward’s population also declined between 2001 and 2008.

Many communities in Eastern Ontario have a disproportionately older population made up mostly of aging baby boomers. As noted above, the aging of such communities can be attributed in part to the net outmigration of younger residents in search of jobs or further education. Some rural communities and small towns have attracted retired or soon to be retired households because of their rural lifestyle and natural amenities. For example, although Prince Edward County has experienced declining population numbers since 2001, the County has attracted higher income retirees from the Greater Toronto Area and other nearby major urban centres like Ottawa. Many of these seniors may have also been seasonal residents owning cottages in the County. Similar trends are also found in the Muskoka-Kawarthas region.

Aging Population Trends in Southern Ontario

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This brief look at demographic trends in Southern Ontario together with my previous blog examining employment trends show that Eastern Ontario is faced with significant economic challenges. These challenges have been the strategic policy focus of both the federal and provincial governments in recent years which will be the subject of a future blog.

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