Immigration’s powerful impact on P.E.I.’s population growth is also having a strong economic effect especially in the province’s housing market, says a director in the province’s finance department.
Nigel Burns, director of economics, statistics and federal fiscal relations, said the province is now hoping to continue the trend with a goal to grow the population to 160,000 by 2022.
With P.E.I. having surpassed an original goal of reaching 150,000 residents by the end of this year, Burns said the rapid growth has also helped increase new housing starts by 43.7 per cent, as well as raise the numbers in manufacturing, retail sales and employment.
“P.E.I. has a really good story right now economically, a lot of it is being driven by population growth,” Burns said during a panel on the province’s population action plan at the Federation of P.E.I. Municipalities meeting in Montague on Saturday. “A lot of this can be traced back to the efforts to grow and rejuvenate the Island population.”
It’s a very different story from what the province projected about 10 years ago.
Burns said the forecasted trend in 2006, when the province had a population of 135,851 according to Statistics Canada, was for the population to maintain itself for a decade and then start to decline.
“That was quite worrying, economically and socially,” said Burns. “(Immigration) has had a pretty powerful impact.”
In the past year, P.E.I. has seen the highest rate of population growth in Canada at about 1.7 per cent.
Burns said the population is currently about 152,000 and noted the growth was not “familiar territory” for the province.
“This might become more the norm for P.E.I.,” said Burns, adding that trends indicate P.E.I. will hit a population of 175,000 in 2032 and will approach 200,000 by the mid-2050s.
However, Burns said the population growth is not happening uniformly across the province.
Many immigrants prefer to settle near Charlottetown. West Prince and Kings County saw population declines between 2006 and 2016.
Susan MacKenzie, executive director of population development and strategic initiatives for the department of workforce and advanced learning, said the province’s population action plan hopes to address the uneven distribution through retention, recruitment and repatriation.
The measures will include working with municipal governments in rural areas. MacKenzie said the P.E.I. Association for Newcomers to Canada, which receives a provincial grant, is also being required to expand their services throughout more of rural P.E.I.
She also told federation members that communities must become more welcoming to newcomers.
“There is lots of research out there that says immigrants will come, they’re very happy to come to P.E.I. but they want to feel welcome. We’re known for being extremely friendly as Islanders, but sometimes we’re not as welcoming as we could be to newcomers.”