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Canada census shows people moving west
Overall population rises to 33.5 million, with Ontario's growth slowing
Census shows western growth
Data released from the 2011 Canadian Census shows population growth is strongest in the western part of the country, CBC's Ioanna Roumeliotis reports
Watch: 3:43The latest census figures show Canada's population at 33.5 million, with more people continuing to migrate to the West.
Western Canada's population has finally surpassed that on the other side of Ontario — a trend that has been decades in the making, but was compounded by the recent recession.
The first barrage of data from the 2011 census, released Wednesday, showed that there were 33.5 million people living in Canada in May of last year — and that for the first time ever, more of them are living west of and the Atlantic provinces.
At the national level, there was a healthy 5.9 per cent surge in population from the previous census in 2006, giving Canada the fastest growth pace of all the countries in the G8.
While other countries are struggling to maintain their populations, Canada's is actually picking up speed.
Within the country's borders, however, the pace is far from uniform.
Ontario is still an axis. It's by far the most populous province, with 38.4 per cent of the population. But Ontario's rate of growth continues to slow as immigrants and locals alike set their sights elsewhere.
Now, the West claims a 30.7 per cent share of the total, compared to 30.6 per cent in Quebec and the Maritimes.
Ontario "is still the largest province, but the shift in the centre of gravity to the West is important," said demographer Frank Trovato of the University of Alberta, editor of Canadian Studies in Population.
Canada's 2011 census package: results were released Wednesday. Canadian PressEvery single region is gaining residents because of immigration, and parts of eastern Canada have seen a startling turnaround because of aggressive immigrant recruitment. Newfoundland and Labrador is no longer shrinking, and both Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick have picked up considerable speed.
But even with rising immigration in the Atlantic provinces, the pace of growth east of the Ottawa River is still dramatically below the national average, while the West — especially Alberta — is in full gallop. Saskatchewan has flipped from a period of decline to above-average expansion in just half a decade.
Statistics Canada says the West has proven particularly attractive to newcomers. At the same time, the region is also seeing somewhat higher fertility and is luring many residents from other parts of the country.
"It does create its own momentum," said Don McIver, director of research at the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies.
What's clear is that the recession turned a slow generational population drift to the West into a quick march.
There was a push. The eastern provinces — where employment and aging have been serious challenges for decades — were pounded by the global recession of 2008. Forestry and manufacturing, already in decline, crumbled.
And there was also a pull. Lured by the promise of jobs and wealth linked to the oilpatch, families across Canada and from around the world have upped stakes and settled in the Prairies.
The fastest growing metropolitan areas were both in Alberta — Calgary and Edmonton — while the only metropolitan areas to show a decline were both in Ontario: Windsor, an auto manufacturing centre, and forestry-based Thunder Bay.
The allure of the West is not just oil prices, however. It's also trade routes, said Roger Gibbins, president of the Canada West Foundation.
As the centre of the global economy has shifted from Europe and the United States to Asia, Gibbins said, Canada's Pacific trade routes from the West Coast have become more important than the Atlantic trade routes in the East
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