by William Warren Munroe, April 16, 2009

The components of population change, including migration in and out of BC, as well as births and deaths, are among the very best indicators of social and economic activity. Statistics Canada has recently released the 4th quarter 2008, population components at the provincial level. Comparisons of the population in 2008 can now be made with previous years.

Figure 1: Change in Total Population for BC, between 1984 and 2008
Total Population Change, BC, 1984 to 2008 Source: Adapted from Statistics Canada by W.W. Munroe

The 2008 population components provide important information on where BC is in the boom and bust cycle, and what the future looks like if trends seen in historical data are repeated.

The changes in population for BC for 2008 suggest that the most recent "boom" peaked in 2007-2008; therefore, in BC, we are now once again moving into the down side of the economic cycle. Using historical data, we can forecast how long and deep this down-turn will likely be.

Total Population Change

The total population in BC continued to increase in 2008, to just under 4,420,000 people. The total population increased by approximately 73,800 over the previous year. Over the last twenty five years, the change in population growth has fluctuated from as low as 28,000 to as high as 108,000 people in a year. The change in population growth reflects the boom and bust cycle the province experiences.See End note (1).

Figure 1 shows the change in the total population for BC from 1984 to 2008. The bottom of the bust in the mid-eighties was repeated fifteen years later in the year 2000. The boom and bust cycle in BC tends to follow the fifteen year rise and fall in aggregated commodity prices reflected in the fluctuations in the value of the Canadian dollar against the US dollar.(2)

The same amount of growth seen in 2008 was also experienced during the boom in the late nineteen eighties and again during the down-turn in the late nineteen nineties.

Recall that the major peak followed by a fall in the value of the Canadian dollar against the US dollar prior to 2008 was fifteen years earlier, in 1992/93 (3); however, the population growth surged in the mid-nineteen nineties with the rapid increase in immigration to BC, due largely to the transition of Hong Kong from British control to that of Mainland China. Since the transition to "One Country, Two Systems" in 1997, some people have moved back to Hong Kong and others to mainland China.

Therefore, while there is an underlying boom and bust cycle as seen in the change in total population, the cycle can be impacted. Factors that can have a large/noticeable impact on the boom and bust cycle include war and international disputes, oil interruptions, and disease.

Future divergence from the boom and bust cycle may be caused by new sources of impacts, such as climate change, to be explored in future articles. Also, localized impacts within the province, like the Olympics, may delay the down-turn in some areas. Nonetheless, down-turns are usually felt in the most peripheral areas first and the core areas last. Intermediate nodes like Nanaimo and Kelowna, can continue to grow throughout the economic cycles.(4)

Nonetheless, for 2008, for BC, the population growth of 73,800 people was due primarily to migration (61,500), and the declining natural change (12,300).


Net migration (in minus out) accounted for most of the population increase in 2008, largely due to the increase in net international migration from 42,757 in 2007 to 55,109 in 2008. The rise in international migration more than compensated for the decline in interprovincial migration.

Figure 2: Net Total Migration, International, and Interprovincial Migration
Net Total Migration, International, and Interprovincial Migration Source: Adapted from Statistics Canada by W.W. Munroe

This increase of approximately 12,800 people was due to the increase of approximately 8,000 non-permanent residents to an estimated 112,782 people, and the increase of approximately 4,800 immigrants to an estimated 48,800 in 2008. International out-migration was estimated at around 10,000, (likely underestimated), which has changed little since 1996 (5).

Figure 3: Non-Permanent Residents (net) and Immigrants, BC, 2002 to 2008
Non-Permanent Residents (stock) and Immigrants, BC, 2002 to 2008 Source: Adapted from Statistics Canada by W.W. Munroe

International in-migration is often calculated by adding the number of immigrants to the net NPR(eg. Statistics Canada). This is not entirely accurate as the net NPR figure can be negative. Nonetheless, since 1972, the sum of these two figures was highest in 2008.

Net (in minus out) interprovincial migration (between provinces and territories within Canada), a much more sensitive indicator of economic activity, declined from 15,520 in 2007 to 6,450 in 2008. Between 2007 and 2008 in-migration from the rest of Canada to BC increased by 1,546 to 63,735, the lowest increase since 2002 to 2003. Out-migration from BC to other parts of the country, for these years, increased by 10,616 to 57,285, the largest increase since 1997 to 1998. For the years 1997 to 2002, the net interprovincial migration for BC was negative, again following the change in commodity prices.

Figure 4: Interprovincial Out-Migration, BC, 2002 to 2008
Interprovincial Out-Migration, BC, 2002 to 2008 Source: Adapted from Statistics Canada by W.W. Munroe

The high in and out interprovincial migration resulted in a high turnover or transition (~121,000 people) which likely impacted BC’s age structure as well as social networks. It is likely that more young adults left the province than arrived, while more people over 55 years of age arrived than left the province. This difference in age migration occurred between the 1996 and 2004, impacting the number of births and deaths in BC. (6)

Natural Change (7)

There were 44,088 births and close to 32,000 deaths in BC in 2008. BC’s natural change, (births minus deaths), declined marginally from 12,412 to 12,214, between 2007 and 2008 respectively. The slight decline was due to the continuing increase in deaths, 770 more deaths than in 2007, compared to the smaller increase in births of 570.

There was a brief recovery in births over deaths resulting in an increase in natural change from 2004 to 2007. The increase in the number of births coincided with the increase in economic activity in BC, and is arguably the best indicator of a "boom" time.

This recent increase in births is likely due, in part, to more young adults staying in the province rather than moving out to other parts of Canada. Therefore, if the amount of out-migration seen in 2008 continues, there will likely be fewer births in the near future than would otherwise be the case.

Figure 5: Natural Change for BC, between 2002 and 2008
Natural Change for BC, between 2002 and 2008 Source: Adapted from Statistics Canada by W.W. Munroe

Deaths are expected to continue to gain on births as the ‘baby boomers’ age, and more retirees move to BC, resulting in a decline in natural change.


2008 was a transition year for BC. Transitions come with challenges and opportunities. The changes in population seen in 2008 in BC reflect the fluctuations in the economic cycle. The drop in commodity prices, as well as the drop in population growth, indicate that the recent boom was relatively small compared to previous booms.

For BC, the next down side of the economic cycle will likely be as deep as the down-turn in the late nineteen nineties. A high reliance on primary resource extraction with diminished secondary and tertiary refinement leaves the people of BC, particularly young families, directly dependant on fluctuations in commodity prices. Manufacturing provides more employment opportunities when commodity prices decline since low input costs provided increased margins. The stimulus package from the Federal Government is very well timed to coincide with the expected up-turn in manufacturing activity in central Canada.

In BC, as commodity prices decline so will jobs in the resource sector including mining, forestry, and fisheries, as well as in transportation, warehousing and construction industries. As people lose their jobs and fewer jobs are available, interprovincial out-migration will likely exceed in-migration once again.

Increases in international net migration will flush the labour supply, especially for low paying part-time work. However, highly skilled people, especially those who are newly trained, will likely be inclined to leave the province during the next down-turn. Nonetheless, some highly specialized practitioners will likely move in from other countries, taking advantage of the new immigration policy, passed in 2008 by the Federal Government, meant to address the perceived shortage of labour.

Of course it is possible that there will be an increase in economic activity in BC overall, or at least in some areas within the province, or for certain sectors, over the next several years, causing people to speculate that the down-turn was short lived. Also, there will likely be rapid fluctuations, both up and down of various indicators, confusing the issues.

However, if the boom and bust cycle follows the "seven years of feast and seven years of famine", as it has in the past, then the overall trend will be for slower economic activity and lower total population change. Therefore, it will be beneficial to practice caution over the next several years. The down-turn can provide some opportunities, and the next "boom" time will likely be as strong as previous up-turns.

The components of population change, including in and out migration, as well as births and deaths provide a realistic measure upon which to gage changes in economic and social activity.


(1) See Statistics Canada, The Daily . Except where stated the source of the numbers in this article are from Statistics Canada.

(2) For an overview of the reasons for the boom and bust cycles, see Migration between Core and Peripheral Areas, 2005, by W.W. Munroe for BC Stats

(3) Pacific Exchange Rate Service is the source of the commodity data provided in Migration between Core and Peripheral Areas, 2005 , by W.W. Munroe for BC Stats.

(4) For an examination of migration within BC in relation with economic cycles and see Intrapovincial Migration by W.W. Munroe for BC Stats.

(5) Emigration is the most difficult of all the components of population change to be estimated. Estimates of emigration could include the residual deviation figure of ~17,000 per year between 2001 and 2006, to be explored in a future article.

(6) See "Global and Local Population Change" May 2008 for census numbers, and the 2007 Demographic Compendium from Statistics Canada. Young adults was an aggregation of males and females aged 18 to 34, for each year.

(7) The sum of the number of births minus the number of deaths in a year is often referred to as natural increase; however, since there are an increasing number of areas that have more deaths than births, particularly in BC, a more accurate descriptor is natural change.

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