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Are people fleeing Vancouver? Census suggests exit trend becoming a stampede

Population growth in Vancouver is down sharply, which should serve as a "wake-up call" for City of Vancouver officials


Vancouver is a great and glorious waterfront city, the greenest and most densely populated in Canada. The gateway to the Pacific Rim, and among the most livable cities in the world, we are told. 

So how come so many people are leaving, driving the city’s population growth rate down 30 per cent in the past five years?

The 2016 census shows that Vancouver’s population increased 6.5 per cent between 2011 and 2016, which looks great except that is well down from the 9.3 per cent increase from 2006 to 2011.

Virtually all of the population growth is coming from immigration, according to Statistics Canada

This is a troubling trend that threatens to become a stampede before the next census.

A staggering 34 per cent of Metro Vancouver homeowners say they are planning to sell their expensive homes and move to more affordable regions over the next five years, according to a new study conducted by Insights West for Resonance Consultancy, a global adviser on real estate and economic development.

Even more alarming is that 40 per cent of gen-X (aged 35 to 54) homeowners in Metro Vancouver said they are considering cashing in and getting out. Also planning to move are 35 per cent of millennials and 28 per cent of boomer homeowners.

Cherise Burda, executive director of the city building institute at Ryerson University, said out-migration means big trouble for cities like Vancouver.

“Families need to stay,” said Burda. A city requires a diverse population that includes young families that help to support services and infrastructure in the city, she argued.

But the move-out trend is becoming pronounced. In January, for example, more people bought a detached house in Saanich and Langford than in all of Vancouver. Kelowna house sales were also higher than in B.C.’s biggest city, and as many detached houses sold on the affordable Sunshine Coast (population 34,000) than across all of Vancouver’s west side, where the typical house lists at $2.8 million. 

The census shows that Vancouver trailed all western Canadian cities in population increases in the latest five-year period, including Lethbridge and even tiny Sylvan Lake, which were among western cities posting double-digit growth.

If it weren’t for immigration, Vancouver’s recent population surge would be dramatically reduced. The brutal truth is a lot of people are leaving the city and many more plan to follow, which should be an alarming wake-up call for City of Vancouver officials