Eh Sayers

Canada reached an important milestone June 16, 2023. For the first time, there were 40 million people living in Canada. That means that someone out there is the 40 millionth Canadian. But who is it? 
 Laurent Martel, director of the Centre for Demography at Statistics Canada, joins us to explore what demographic data can tell us about this person, as well as the implications of Canada’s changing demographics and its rapid population growth.  

What is Eh Sayers?

Listen to the Eh Sayers podcast to meet the people behind the data and explore the stories behind the numbers. Join us as we meet with experts from Statistics Canada and from across the nation to ask and answer the questions that matter to Canadians.

Tegan: Welcome to season four of Eh Sayers, a podcast from Statistics Canada, where we meet the people behind the data and explore the stories behind the numbers. I’m your host, Tegan Bridge.
Something happened June 16, 2023. We woke up that morning to a changed world. You might not have noticed it, but let me assure you, it was a big deal. Huge.
Laurent: The population of Canada just reached 40 million inhabitants.
Tegan: And who is this?
Laurent: My name is Laurent Martel and I am the director of the Centre for Demography at Statistics Canada.
Tegan: Thank you, Laurent, that's exactly it. 40 million Canadians. (And just a note, we’re using the word Canadian to mean anyone living in Canada, rather than the legal definition of Canadian citizen. Big tent mentality, you know?
Anyway. Someone out there is the 40 millionth Canadian. Who is it?
(Baby coos.)
Tegan: Let’s start with the obvious. Maybe this 40 millionth Canadian is… a bébé.
If that’s the case, the 40 millionth Canadian is slightly more likely to be a boy than a girl. And he’s most likely born in Ontario, just because so many people live in Ontario. In 2021, over 141,000 babies were born in Ontario, versus the next highest, just over 83,000 in Quebec.
The bébé in question is likely to have at least one sibling, but only just. Of the families counted in the 2016 Census, 45% reported having a sibling rivalry-free zone in their household with only one child.
We know where our baby is likely to be born, we know he’s slightly more likely to be a boy and we know he’s likely to have at least one sibling. What else do we know? We can't predict with certainty what his future will hold, but, through the power of the census, demography and statistics we can make a few educated guesses.
For example, life expectancy has been trending up. A boy born in the early 80s could expect to live about 72 years, while life expectancy for boys born in the late 2010s early 2020s is just under 80 years.
Women are having children later than they used to. Our baby's mother is likely around 31 years old. That's based on data showing that the mean age of mothers at the time of delivery in 2021 was 31, 2 years older than it had been in 2001.
Our baby is also possibly a second generation Canadian, though the odds are stronger that both his parents were born in this country. According to 2021 Census data, almost 1.9 million children younger than 15 years had at least one parent born abroad, accounting for 32% or almost one-third of all children in Canada.
Ok now, the big reveal! If the 40 millionth Canadian is in fact a baby, we’ve learned a lot about who they’re likely to be, where they’re likely to be born and a couple things about their family. But how likely is the 40 millionth Canadian to be a baby?
Laurent: The likelihood of the 40 millionth Canadian being a baby is probably less than 5%.
Tegan: Do we know why Canadians are having fewer kids? Is it affordability, changing values or maybe something else?
Laurent: You have two answers right for sure. And there's also other reasons. It goes back to, uh, 40, 50 years ago. Contraception was more accessible to couples in the country. So that's the first reason why the Canadian couple had fewer children.
Now they have the capacity or capability to have the number of kids that they wish as well as the timing of when do they have their kids so they can have a better control on this. I would say the second big reason is, um, women, Canadian women have started to participate more onto the labour force.
So, it had an impact on the fertility of Canadian couples. There is probably as well some religious values. We know that, uh, more Canadians now are expressing themselves as being without any religion. And it’s certainly had an impact on the fertility of Canadian couples over the last 50, 60 years.
And finally, couples are always making some rational decisions, rational economic decision you know? When you want to have kids, the first question you'll likely ask yourself is can I afford to have a child?
Uh, is there something else that I would like to do with that money? So certainly this is also one of the reasons why the Canadian fertility has dropped over the last 40, 50 years.
Tegan: So, if not a baby, the 40 millionth Canadian is likely a newcomer—Welcome! By the way!
What effect does immigration have on our population growth?
Laurent: A very large effect. We have to know that 95% of Canada's population growth in 2022 was related to either permanent or temporary immigration. We have a strong population growth right now, one of the highest in the world actually because of immigration, both temporary and uh, permanent immigration.
Tegan: Immigration, not fertility, has been driving Canada's population growth since the 1990s.
From 2016 to 2021, Canada's population living in private households grew by 5%, and new, or recent, immigrants accounted for 71% of that growth.
And if this 40 millionth Canadian is a newcomer, what's the likely reason they came to Canada?
Laurent: I would say likely the, he, he came to Canada likely to, uh, either pursue studies or work in the Canadian and labour force.
And it's probably a temporary immigrant with a permit. So a study permit or a work permit that came that came recently in the country.
Tegan: And you said he, is the 40 million Canadian probably a man?
Laurent: Probably yes, because most of immigrants are coming for work reasons or study permits. So, um, most of the time these are men and he probably came alone in the country.
Tegan: The vast majority (96%) of recent immigrants to Canada from 2016 to 2021 were under the age of 65, with most (64%) were in the core working age group of 25 to 54.
And what part of the world are they most likely from and how has this changed recently?
Laurent: Most of our immigrants these days are coming from Asia. And that's a big shift compared to 40, 50 years ago where most of, uh, Canadian immigration was coming from Europe. Now it's migrated to Asia. Countries like India, like China, Pakistan, Sri Lanka. Those are, um, big immigration countries these days for Canada.
Also interesting is the fact that recently we've seen an increase of immigrants coming from the African continent. It is still a small share of the total number of immigrants coming on an annual basis to Canada but it's an increasing share.
Tegan: I was reading that the number of immigrants coming from India is just massive. Is it remarkable that number?
Laurent: India recently became the number one source country of Canada. It's not a big surprise given the fact that India just became the country with the largest population in the world taking over China. For years and years the number one source country of immigration to Canada was China and now it's India. So this is, this is a shift. Yes.
Tegan: And where is this 40 millionth Canadian, when they get to Canada, where are they likely to move to?
Laurent: Most likely probably in Ontario and probably in the region of Toronto. Our immigrants to Canada are mostly settling in, in the six largest cities of the country. It's about two thirds of them going in the six largest cities of the country.
So Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton and Ottawa-Gatineau. Very few of them, about a third are going to other large cities of the country. And then a minority, a small minority goes into rural to rural regions.
Tegan: The vast majority of immigrants, over 90%, reported being able to have a conversation in English or French. So our 40 millionth Canadian, in all likelihood speaks one of our two official languages. Are they likely to speak a different language as a mother tongue?
Laurent: 50 years ago, most of our immigrants were coming from European countries where French and English are quite often spoken like in France or in United Kingdom and also other countries.
Now most of our immigrants are coming from Asian countries where French and English are little spoken. So, they're coming to Canada very often with a different mother tongue than French and English. But of course, getting into Canada, they will learn one or the other language or both actually.
Tegan: While we're talking about culture, let's talk about religion. What do we know about their religious beliefs?
Laurent: The ethnocultural composition of the Canadian population is changing quite fast and it has for a given number of years now. The share of Canadians with a Christian religion has been decreasing over many years now. And the share of Canadians with a non-Christian religion has been increasing. Religions such as the Muslim religion, Hindu, religion, uh, the Sikh religion, for example.
The number of Canadians with one of these non-Christian religions has been increasing. Of course, because a large share of our immigration is coming from Asia where you find those, uh, those religions. So, this is a big change. And if current trends are continuing related to immigration, we can also expect these changes to go on for at least many years and many maybe may many decades in front of us.
Tegan: Can you summarize what we've been saying into a single profile? Who is our, who's most likely our 40 millionth Canadian?
Laurent: So our 40th million Canadian is likely a temporary immigrant. A man, coming to Canada alone, establishing himself in the region of Toronto, and he's coming to Canada either with a work permit or a study permit. I would say these are the most chances.
Tegan: Well, I hope you enjoy your stay. It's a lovely country. Why is immigration so important to Canada?
Laurent: We have a long tradition of immigration in the country. This country was built on immigration. We had the large settlement waves at the beginning of the 20th century going to the western provinces.
Immigration has always been important for Canada and given the fact that Canadian women and Canadian couples have fewer children these days, actually fertility, uh, reached a record low of 1.4 children per woman in the last few years. Given the fact that this is not sufficient to renew the Canadian population, immigration is kind of one of the ways in which Canada can keep a positive demographic growth. Or in other words, a way that the Canadian population can still be increasing. So, immigration has always been important and given as well the labor shortages that we are facing on the labour market, immigration is one way to cope with these, uh, labor shortages. So certainly immigration can fill, um, many, uh, needs for Canada.
Tegan: It's not just for growth and the labour force. Diversity defines us. According to the 2020 General Social Survey, 92% of the population aged 15 and older agreed that ethnic or cultural diversity is a Canadian value.
Laurent: The ethnocultural composition of the Canadian population is changing very rapidly. The share of people being foreign born, the share of people belonging to racialized groups has been increasing for years now. And our projection shows that with the current immigration levels, this ethnocultural composition of the Canadian population will be still increasing fast in the coming years.
Tegan: What are projections saying about Canada's future population and what's immigration's role in that predicted to be?
Laurent: Projections from demographers such as StatCan uh, we are always making assumptions on the future and to develop assumptions, we're often looking at past trends. And given our strong tradition related to immigration, if current immigration trends are continuing in the future, our projections indicates that the Canadian population should continue to grow very fast.
The number of years before we we're reaching 50 million Canadians could be much lower than the time it took to go from 30 to 40 million Canadians.
Tegan: How does Canada's population growth compare to other similar countries like maybe other G7 countries?
Laurent: Canada has the fastest population growth of all G7 countries and that's not new, it's been going on for the last 20 years. It's something that people have to realize, we do have a strong population growth. Same thing with the immigration rates. The number of immigrants that we receive a given year divided by the total Canadian population.
Our immigration rate is if not the highest, one of the highest of the G7 countries for years. In 22, there was a small exception with, uh, Germany who had that year, uh, strong immigration rate related to a special situation. But usually Canada comes on top. So, we're unique in a sense to other G7 countries for population growth and for immigration rate. And we also have a slightly younger population than other G7 countries.
Tegan: And what is it about Canada that makes it attractive to so many immigrants? People looking to find a new home.
Laurent: Immigrants are choosing Canada to improve their quality of life. I think that Canada is an excellent reputation internationally for its quality of life, uh, stable, democratic institutions, peace as well. So, all immigrants are probably interested in those characteristics of the Canadian population and of Canada.
We also have a strong tradition of immigration. So many immigrants may find in Canada already a community from their country already living in the country. So that's, that's one reason why immigrants are also coming to Canada, it's to be reunited with their families that are already, have immigrated in past years, for example.
Tegan: What are some of the challenges as well as opportunities of such a high immigration rate?
Laurent: There are lots of opportunities, lots of challenges associated with immigration. Of course, immigrants can fill our labor market needs. It's also an opportunity for Canada because they're coming with, uh, human capital that they're bringing to this country. Different experience, different knowledge. So, we are better together with immigrants coming in in the country.
But a strong immigration rate also represents major challenges related to for example, housing. We need to build houses and apartments for these immigrants coming in. We also have to deliver to them health services, schools where their kids can, can go.
So we need to develop infrastructures, roads for example, other types of infrastructure. So, when you have a strong population growth, one of the key challenges is making sure that your infrastructure needs will be sufficient to sustain such a growth. So that's a few examples of the challenges related to not only a strong immigration rate, but a strong population growth.
Tegan: Where can people go if they would like to learn more about demography and Canada's population?
Laurent: There's one stop shop, it's on Statistics Canada’s website of course. And there's a subject matter portal called Population and Demography where they can find all the products related to the Canadian population released by StatCan.
So, if you're looking for statistics on the number of Canadians across the country in different regions, if you're looking to the latest number of children per woman, you want to have statistics on life expectancy, you want to have statistics on families on the households, uh, you want to have access to some of our projections product, it's all there. It's population demography on Statistics Canada website.
Tegan: And what do you hope listeners get out of this episode?
Laurent: One key message: Canada is unique in the world. We are unique when we compare to the G7. We are unique when we compare to the OECD countries and if we are also unique when we compare at large. We have a very strong immigration rate right now we do have a very strong population growth as well. So, this a situation different really than what we see in most of the other countries. And actually it's interesting because demographers are projecting that by 2070, 2080, the world population could start decreasing while Canada is on a different trajectory. Our growth rate has increased in recent years and maybe Canada will continue to have a strong population growth at a time when the world population will be starting to decrease. So, it's kind of interesting and we're really on a different trajectory right now.
Tegan: Well! If our predictions are correct, I'd like to say svaagat to our 40 millionth Canadian! That's welcome in Hindi, or at least my best attempt! But wherever you're from or what language you speak, we're glad to have you.
Tegan: You’ve been listening to Eh Sayers. Thank you to our guest, Laurent Martel, as well as Patrick Charbonneau for his help behind the scenes.
You can subscribe to this show wherever you get your podcasts. There you can also find the French version of our show, called Hé-coutez bien. If you liked this show, please rate, review, and subscribe. Thanks for listening!

Statistics Canada. “Population and Demography Statistics.” Statistics Canada. Government of Canada, June 3, 2019.