Canadians Are Dumping Big Cities By The Tens of Thousands As Locals De-Urbanize

Canada’s largest cities are seeing the struggle to keep locals heat up, as small cities up their game… or big cities drive locals out. We unpacked the latest Statistics Canada (Stat Can) data for migration in 2021. The largest real estate markets are losing locals, and becoming dependent on immigration. Meanwhile, rural areas are gaining many of those fleeing big cities, as more people de-urbanize. Small and more affordable cities are also winners, attracting people from across Canada.

Net Intraprovincial and Interprovincial Migration and Why You Care

If you’re a regular reader and familiar with the terms and why they’re important, feel free to skip this section. If you’re new around here (hi!) or need a refresher, we’ve got you. Intraprovincial migration is people who move from one area of a province to another (i.e., Vancouver to Victoria, etc.). Interprovincial migration is the flow from one province to another, such as Ontario to Nova Scotia. Easy so far, right?

The net flow is the balance of those migrations. If ten people migrate in and ten migrate out, the net is zero — there’s no change. At least in terms of the number of people. Ideally, you want a positive flow, meaning a region attracts more people than loses them. If the net is negative, the area is losing its locals. It doesn’t necessarily mean the population is shrinking, but it does present a problem.

Intraprovincial and interprovincial migrations are people with local experience. They aren’t sold by a glossy campaign to move from across the globe. When they leave in significant quantities, and few Canadians want to replace them, there’s a problem. The regions being fled clearly aren’t offering the value proposition of other places. This warrants more digging, since it can be a systemic issue forming, that isn’t apparent to the rest of the world.

Immigrants often arrive in major cities without much of a feel for them, but there’s more information about them than smaller cities. This can push population higher, and make a city seem attractive. Governments tend to see taxpayers as interchangeable units, so this is their focus. Who cares if a person from Toronto is forced out of a city if two immigrants that pay taxes can replace them, right? Well, those immigrants might be leaving that region in a few years as well.

If the fleeing talent builds job hubs elsewhere, the city takes a big hit with any immigration hiccup. Ever read about a city that was a global hub 50 years ago (e.g. Detroit, Buffalo, etc.), and now is barely worth mentioning? It starts with locals seeing better opportunities elsewhere.

Canada’s Biggest Real Estate Markets Lead The Losses For Intraprovincial Migration

Alright, onto the data! We’ll start with net intraprovincial migration — a.k.a. people moving within their province. Net intraprovincial migration for census metropolitan areas (CMA) hit -60,091 in 2021. That means 60,091 more people left cities for rural parts of the same province. Advanced economies usually try to have people urbanize, not de-urbanize. Last year people fled cities 59% faster than the year before.

Cities seeing the most people flee within the province are also the biggest real estate markets. Net losses were biggest in Toronto (-64,121 people), Montreal (-39,904), and Vancouver (-12,245).  The gap between Montreal and Vancouver is particularly large, and worth noting.

Canadian Net Intraprovincial Migration

The net flow of people between a region and other parts of its respective province. Only regions with a net flow of 750 people or more are shown.

Source: Statistics Canada; Better Dwelling.

The biggest winners of intraprovincial migration are rural. Rural Quebec (+25,831) and Ontario (+13,680) showed the largest net increases. For cities, Oshawa (+8,262) and Niagara (+4,945) made the two biggest gains. Equally as important, they were able to keep people from fleeing.

Winnipeg and Toronto Lead For People Fleeing To Other Provinces

Interprovincial migration is when a person moves to a new province, and a lot of them moved for rural homes. Net interprovincial migration between cities and a rural region in other provinces was -7,372 for 2021. This means 7,372 more people left cities for a rural home in another province, than vice versa. This trend has shown steady growth for the past few years, but last year was 3x the previous one.

What cities are the people fleeing? The biggest interprovincial outflows were in Winnipeg (-7,466), Toronto (-7,372), and Edmonton (-4,272). One of those doesn’t seem like it belongs. That’s because you might not realize the bitter cold of the Prairies is equally a driver out of a region as listening to people from Toronto talk about nothing but real estate and the Leafs. More likely opportunity is driving people out of the Prairies, and home prices out of Toronto.

Cities that gained the most people from other provinces are coastal. Vancouver (+12,765), Halifax (+5,594), and Victoria (+5,235) took the top three spots for net increases. The rumors are true; Halifax has managed to attract people from other provinces — a lot of people. As for pricey Victoria and Vancouver, if everywhere is obscenely expensive across the country, you might as well have nice weather.

Once again, intra and inter-provincial trends aren’t necessarily population growth. A region can see population growth with negative migration, as long as immigration and births are higher than the losses. Populations can also still fall with positive migration if deaths and emigration outpace. These are mostly sentiment data points, especially if you’re considering a new city.

At some point, it may become common knowledge that cities like Toronto and Vancouver are amongst the worst paying for immigrants. If deteriorating opportunities become apparent, regions focused on quality of life turn into more attractive immigrant destinations. This can dramatically impact long-term trends, and they’re not easy to reverse.



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  • Tom Wolfe 2 years ago

    I question the facts like ‘The biggest interprovincial outflows were in Winnipeg (-7,466), Toronto (-7,372), and Edmonton (-4,272).’

    The census is taken every 5 years. The latest would allow a comparison of 2016 to 2021. That was a period of unprecedented change and not indicative of future change. We wont have another census until 2026. The CRA address record may be more responsive but with online services their data must be far less reliable than it was.

    I offer my own facts – Mid 2021 my wife and I moved from Toronto to rural Ontario. Our adult son came with us. My other son and his wife moved from Toronto to Montreal in late 2021. Montreal has one less vacancy, and other than the landlord no one else is aware. Their Toronto place is intentionally vacant. No government body has tracked these changes – we are 5 Canadians who are not on any of the records referenced in the article and the number therefor -7372 for Toronto is unequivocally incorrect, and I expect by my much more than our 5.

    With no fault to BD (love you guys) the information the government and other bodies use is worthless. Conclusions drawn from them are equally worthless. I think the numbers are used to justify someone else’s unknown agenda.

    What can be done about it? I have no idea. But I, for one, am tired of being expected to believe that these ‘facts’ are in hand or remotely accurate.

    • JT 2 years ago

      They don’t use only census data. They use last census data plus information from the provinces. In Ontario the population estimates are provided by the Ministry of Finance. They would use a variety of inputs, health card information, drivers licenses, deaths, births, applications for government services and property tax information from MPAC.

      In the example where you move to Quebec, you would be counted in Ontario when your health services are cancelled and added in Quebec when you are contributing to QPP or obtain a Quebec health card or when you obtain a Quebec drivers license. Obviously, there would be some communication between Quebec and Ontario when your drivers license information is verified. Of course, if you are scamming the system and not switching over your drivers license or health care it’s possible you were not counted.

      • Tom Wolfe 2 years ago

        No scam, they don’t drive. No DMV involved. Ontario residence, no change of doctors, had same doctor since birth. Entrepreneurial, no change of business address, still in Toronto. No one is the wiser. Not uncommon.

      • vnm 2 years ago

        Exactly, medical insurance, driver’s license, car insurance … moving to QC for example, new residents actually have to demonstrate with grocery bills where they’ve been living, not saying where they’ve been living, provincial tax is done separately. While health should theoretically
        work anywhere in the country, in Toronto many places no longer accept
        QC health cards, because the Quebec government won’t reimuburse them.

  • Heather 2 years ago

    Tom may have a point about the government date being questionable. On the radio today, it was mentioned that the Feds don’t have current data on how climate change is going to affect different areas of Canada, ie. heat, rain, landslides, etc. Always reactive instead of proactive. Our governments at work for us.
    I assume Victoria is getting crowded because a girlfriend who lives there said traffic is becoming more congested. I am in the Lower Mainland. I don’t go anywhere after 3:00 if at all possible, because the roads where I am are a parking lot. Maybe gov stats on traffic are more up-to-date? Probably not. Burnaby is building 20 high rises on 5 acres where residents will end up on two roads already congested.
    And you are right about living in Canada. If you have to pay high prices, you might as well be in a warmer climate. That said, the Lower Mainland is not enchanting anymore. However, I like to be close to big libraries, major medical facilities, and other facilities (not malls). What to do, what to do.

    • no to jabs 2 years ago

      yhis is probably the reason why quebec has curfews to punish those that moved to rural quebec. haha good luck with the immigrants.

  • SH 2 years ago

    Sneering Boomer: “Stop complaining and MOVE”
    Millennial: “Ok, sure thing” (packs bags)
    Sneering Boomer: “That’s not what we meant! Get back here!”

    • vnm 2 years ago

      Those thankless kids, look at the veritable paradise Boomers have created for them to inherit.

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