Total Population, Canada’s Provinces and Territories, 2006, 2011
by William Warren Munroe, November 5, 2013

Is Canada "firmly in the grip of a westward shift in population power" as announced in a newspaper with nation wide distribution, the National Post. This assertion was made with reference to the most recent census of population from Statistics Canada.

A closer look at the change in the proportion of population residing in the western provinces shows that shift to be about one half of one percent. Also, Central Canada's (Ontario and Quebec) population increase was higher than all the western provinces combined.

The following chart provides a comparison of the number of people residing in Canada's Provinces and Territories.

Figure 1. Total Population, Canada’s Provinces and Territories, 2006, 2011

The bar chart shows that Ontario continues to maintain the largest portion of Canada's population, followed by Quebec, then the western provinces, the eastern provinces, and the northern territories.

The table also shows Ontario received the largest number of people between 2006 and 2011, followed by Quebec, Alberta, then BC.

Although, the population growth in the west was highlighted by the National Post:

"Canada ... remains firmly in the grip of a westward shift in population power" (National Post, February 8, 2012)1

Central Canada (Ontario and Quebec) had a higher increase in population than all western provinces combined.

Together, Quebec and Ontario were home to over 20 million people in 2011, with an increase of just over 1 million people since the 2006 census.

The increase in population for all western provinces - Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia, when added together, was ~ 3/4 of a million people.

Ontario's increase (nearly 700,000) was almost twice that of Alberta (just over 350,000).

Nonetheless, while the actual number of people increased more in Central Canada, the west did gain a marginal incease in the proportion of Canada's total population, rising from 30.12% to 30.73% (of Canada's total population) an increase of just over 1/2 percent at 0.61%.

Central Canada's portion of Canada's total population declined from 62.34% in 2006 to 62.00% of Canada's total population - a decline of one third of one percent, or - 0.34%.

Perhaps the journalistic/ media/ entertainment oriented statement in the Natioinal Post would more accurately be phrased:

"Canada ... remains firmly in the grip of less than one percent (0.6%) westward shift in population power".

Perhaps a clearer statement, would read:

"the western province's portion of Canada's total population increased just over one half of one percent (0.61%)".

When speaking about population change in terms of growth rates, the size of the total population is important to consider. For example, Canada may have had the largest % increase of any of the industrialized G8 nations :

"Canada's population increased at a faster rate than the population of any other member of the G8 group of industrialized nations between 2006 and 2011." (Statistics Canada, referring to the 2011 census results, February 8, 2012)2

However, Canada has the smallest total population of any of the industrialized G8 nations. Related reading G8 Nations Population Projections

Another example of the limits to percent, or rates, as a way of describing change is to consider the increase in population for the Yukon Territory (~34,000 total population) with 12% growth (~3,500 increase), marginally higher than Alberta (~3,650,000 total population) at 11% growth (~355,000 increase).

In other words, Alberta came second in Canada in percent growth even though it's actual increase (rather than percent increase) was 100 times greater than the Yukon.

Why was the Yukon's growth (rate) higher than Alberta? Due to the Yukon's high number of additional people in 2011 relative to the Yukon's lower total 2006 population.

On the other hand, just under 700,000 more people added to the already 12.2 million people residing in Ontatio resulting in under 5% growth.

Nonetheless, rates of change relative to the existing population do provide important insights.

May I suggest, the actual numbers and percent change accompany each other. Indeed, when population change is being discussed, whether at a town hall meeting, in a tax-funded study, in newspapers, make sure that both the actual numbers (aka: absolute) and percent change (aka: nominal) are provided. If they are not there, find alternatives for demographic information sources, like this website, and Happy Analysis!

Adapted from Statistics Canada, 2011 Census of Population, by W. W. Munroe, WM Population Analysis.

Statistics Canada. 2012. Population and dwelling counts, for Canada, provinces and territories, 2011 and 2006 censuses (table). Population and Dwelling Count Highlight Tables. 2011 Census.

Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 98-310-XWE2011002. Released February 8, 2012.

1A newspaper with nation wide distribution, the National Post, contained the following statements "Canada Census 2011: Canada leads G8 in growth, population hits 33.5 million ... a country that remains firmly in the grip of a westward shift in population power" (February 8, 2012),

2The Daily, 2011 Census: Population and dwelling counts, Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Back to Top

Website content, code, and design by W.W. Munroe. Copyright ©