Referendum Questions: Are another million people really coming?

Demographics expert fact checks Yes side claim of 3.5 million people in Metro Vancouver by 2045

Mayors repeatedly say Metro Vancouver’s population will grow by another million people over the next 30 years.

That statistic underpins the entire Yes campaign case for transportation expansion, so is it accurate?

The projection the mayors use is a forecast from Metro Vancouver regional district planners that the current 2.5 million people in the region as of 2015 will reach 3.53 million in 2045.

Demographer Andrew Ramlo at Urban Futures says his firm has its own population estimates and projects the extra million residents will arrive a few years sooner – in 2041 after 26 years, instead of 30.

The provincial government’s BC Stats office has a slightly lower estimate of nearly 3.41 million by 2041, compared to Urban Futures’ 3.48 million that year.

SEE ALSO:Population projections interactive chartReferendum Questions series index

Ramlo says his firm assumes net migration of nearly 30,000 people into the region each year. That’s slightly above the pace of around 25,000 in the past year or two but below recent peak years of 45,000 – essentially on the average pace the region has already been experiencing.

But Ramlo argues the estimated increase of one million does not tell the entire story, because the Metro-only numbers ignore population growth in the Fraser Valley, which also increases traffic congestion and transit demand in Metro.

“We know we’ve got a good number of people living in the Valley who are working in Metro or living in Metro and working in the Valley,” Ramlo said.

Add Fraser Valley population growth in, he says, and the gain for all of the Lower Mainland by 2041 is 1.22 million and the one-million increase is reached in 2036.

“Whether it’s a million people in 2036, 2041 or 2045, we still have to plan for them and it’s the planning we can do in the short and medium term that will put us in good stead to deal with those changes.”

Where do all the new people come from?

International immigration is by far the largest source, adding 40,000-plus net new residents most years, while there’s typically a net outflow of several thousand from Metro to other regions of B.C., a few thousand arrive in Metro from other provinces, and smaller gains come from the “natural growth” of births exceeding deaths.

Some referendum commenters suggest the region should stop accepting more people.

But freedom of movement is a fundamental right in Canada, Ramlo notes, and immigration policy is set by Ottawa.

“We’ve got really zero control over that because immigration levels are set at the federal level.”

Adding more newcomers is essential to fill the jobs that will support the province’s aging, increasingly retired population, he added.

“Where is your next nurse or care aide going to come from?” Ramlo asked. “It’s not just Starbucks jobs we’re talking about. It’s people’s doctors, people’s dentists, hygenists, your physiotherapists.”

Metro cities are not entirely powerless to keep new people from coming here.

City councils could refuse to approve any more residential development – Port Moody did just that at one point until a funding impasse was resolved to get the Evergreen Line built.

Ramlo acknowledged a new housing ban would be an option for cities, and there may be pressure for no-new-growth policies if the No side wins.

He predicted that would slow but not stop the incoming flow of people to Metro Vancouver, resulting in enormous pressure to fit new arrivals into a capped housing supply through means such as many more illegal suites.

He also warned there would be a profound effect on real estate markets if all new home construction was cut off for an extended period.

“There would be very significant upward pressure on prices,” Ramlo said. “You think we have affordability challenges and issues right now? In that situation, they would grow at an exponential rate.”

Referendum Questions is a Black Press series exploring issues related to the Metro Vancouver transit and transportation referendum. Voters must mail in ballots by May 29 on whether they support the addition of a 0.5 per cent sales tax in the region, called the Congestion Improvement Tax, to fund billions of dollars worth of upgrades. Follow the links below to read more in this series.

Metro population | Create infographics

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