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Population Growth

Population growth is an important indicator of a province's and a region's prosperity. If a province is thriving, its residents are more inclined to stay, and migrants (from other provinces and countries) are more likely to arrive. Simply put, people "vote with their feet," following perceived opportunities and higher standards of living and leaving behind stagnant economic conditions.

A province benefits from population expansion in a number of ways. The increased labour pool and larger consumer market spurs economic growth and increases the tax base. The inflow of people from other parts of the country and other parts of the world adds to social diversity and fosters cultural activity. In addition, as a province's population builds, its relative share of the national population and its "political clout" are enhanced.

Population Growth in the Early 20th Century
Western Canada experienced rapid population growth during the early part of the 20th century as settlers poured in from other parts of Canada and the world. The region's population rose by a staggering 410 percent between 1901 and 1931 while the rest of the country grew by a more modest 54 percent. Over the same period, the West's share of the national population increased from 11 to 29 percent. Tough times in the region saw the West's portion of the national population begin to drop during the Great Depression. It was not until the mid-1990s that the region's share of the national population climbed past the 1931 level.
distribution of population is western provinces

Population Growth in the Later 20th Century
Between 1971 and 2000, western Canada's population increased by 58 percent (3,395,412 people) compared to 33 percent (5,392,593 people) for the rest of the country. The relatively strong regional population expansion, however, masks significant differences within the area: while British Columbia and Alberta experienced strong population growth, Saskatchewan and Manitoba have been modest at best. 
average population change 1972-2000
The West's population increased by an average of 1.6 percent per year between 1972 and 2000 while the rest of the country rose by 1 percent per year. These figures do not, however, reveal the peaks and valleys that characterize population change in western Canada. Interrelated factors including economic conditions, the movement of people within Canada and international migration (both in and out of the country) explain the variation.

If history is any guide, western Canadians should expect uneven population growth in the years ahead as economic conditions shift and the relative attractiveness of different jurisdictions changes.

Excerpts reprinted from State of the West: Western Canadian Demographic and Economic Trends with permission from the Canada West Foundation.
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