Canada-housing-market-immigration Photo: James Bombales

The pandemic has upended previously strong Canadian population growth trends thanks to its unprecedented impact on international migration.

According to a recent RBC Economics report, the country’s population rose by only 2,767 in 2020’s third quarter. This three-month stretch marks the smallest population gain since 1946 and the first time since 1971 that international migration was negative, wrote RBC Economist Carrie Freestone.

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Because international migration is by far the largest driver of population gains for Canada, the pandemic has essentially halted growth as of the third quarter of 2020, wrote Freestone.

For context, immigration accounted for about 80 percent of population growth in 2019, as Canada welcomed 370,000 new permanent residents that year.

Ontario, BC, Nova Scotia, Saskatchewan, New Brunswick and Newfoundland saw their populations decline from July to September, with Ontario experiencing the largest drop in total migration.

But help is on the way in 2021.

“While international migration will likely be soft in the first half of 2021, once the vaccine is mobilized globally and international travel resumes, we expect international migration to ramp up,” wrote Freestone.

“In the second half of 2021, we can certainly expect to see significantly higher levels of non-permanent residents,” she added.

All this will be helped along, of course, by the federal government’s more aggressive immigration targets in place from 2021 to 2023. Unveiled on October 30th to make up for the pandemic-driven 2020 shortfall, the new government targets would see 1.2 million immigrants welcomed to the country over the next three years.

Rental and condo markets in major urban hubs have already been particularly hard hit by the precipitous drop in immigration and a lack of international students this year.

“Growth in the housing market is predicated on population growth, and from Canada’s perspective and certainly drilling down into the GTA, immigration is a key driver of population growth,” the Toronto Regional Real Estate Board’s Jason Mercer told Livabl, in November.

“The GTA, I would argue, is Canada’s single greatest beneficiary of that immigration,” he added.

In an interview with the Financial Post, Royal LePage CEO Phil Soper said that the level of immigration the government is targeting in its new plan hasn’t been seen in Canada since the early 1900s.

These immigration targets, paired with the return of international students next year, mean downtown condo markets’ fortunes will be quickly reversed in 2021, Soper predicted.

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