Largest N.B. cities growing much faster than the national average

Click to play video: 'Population growth in New Brunswick cities create challenges'
Population growth in New Brunswick cities create challenges
WATCH: New Brunswick’s three largest cities grew faster than the national average last year, with the Moncton area outpacing every other urban area in the country. But that rapid pace of growth brings its own set of challenges. Silas Brown explains. – Jan 12, 2023

The Moncton region was the fastest-growing metropolitan area in Canada last year, adding nearly 9,000 people between July 2021 and 2022.

That five per cent growth rate dwarfed the 1.8 per cent national average and is the culmination of years of work from the city, according to Mayor Dawn Arnold. She says the city has had an immigration strategy for about a decade and has been hard at work looking to attract and retain newcomers.

“It’s not really unanticipated,” she said.  “A lot of work has gone into this.”

The Fredericton and Saint John regions also outperformed the national average, growing 3.3 per cent and 2.1 per cent, respectively, and the Halifax area was right behind Moncton with the second-fastest growth rate in the country.

It’s the first time in around two decades that two Maritime cities have led the country in growth. According to Sébastien Lavoie, an analyst with Statistics Canada’s Centre for Demography, most cities in the country are benefiting from an uptick in immigration, but an influx of people from other provinces is what’s pushing Maritime cities above the national growth average.

Story continues below advertisement

“In years past, let’s say prior to the pandemic, they tended to not gain or even lose some people in exchanges with other provinces,” he said.

“It’s interesting, because that was a pretty stable trend for some time and now we’re seeing it change.”

Read more: New Brunswick continues torrid population growth, but economists say support is needed

The demographics of those moving to the province’s cities are changing as well. Lavoie says immigrants tend to be younger. And the province’s large cities are seeing a steady uptick in young families and students, demographics that were typically leaving the province over the previous few decades.

“A big difference is that young families, student-aged people, weren’t really a source of this movement coming to New Brunswick or Moncton pre-pandemic,” he said.

“In fact generally the area was losing small amounts of people in those (demographics) to other parts of the country.”

The unprecedented growth has also stretched housing supply, leading to an affordability crisis and a growing number of unhoused people in cities across the province.

Arnold said Moncton is trying hard to catch up, issuing a record $366 million in building permits last year, but there’s always a lag when responding to such a rapid population increase.

Story continues below advertisement

“We’re caught kind of in a between time where we have these social issues and these challenges that are rising up but at the same time we have this incredible investment in our community, so trying to keep both things balanced is the eternal challenge,” Arnold said.

The challenges posed by growth aren’t unique to the Moncton census metropolitan area, nor are they confined to housing-related issues.

Fredericton Mayor Kate Rogers said the city proper grew by about 2,000 over the last year, with another 1,600 people added to the municipality through recent municipal boundary changes.

Read more: New Brunswick rapidly growing as population tops 800,000 for the first time, StatsCan says

She says many of the growth-related challenges faced by the city are out of their control, pointing to schools that are “bursting at the seams” and a health-care system where patients struggle to get access to primary care or face lengthy waits in emergency rooms.

“I think that the province, when it looks at its growth, it needs to look at where does that growth exist, where is it happening, where are the pockets in the province that it’s happening,” she said.

“It’s primarily in the urban centres, how do we work with the urban centres so that they can accommodate the growth that is happening.”

Story continues below advertisement

According to Fred Bergman, a senior policy analyst with the Atlantic Provinces Economic Centre, large population increases both bring opportunity and require action. An influx of people means more tax revenue, additional spending and economic activity.

But it also means greater demand on the services and structures required to support citizens.

“There’ll be more demand for public infrastructure and private infrastructure, whether that’s housing, whether that’s schools and hospitals,” Bergman said.

“It’s overall a good problem to have … but of course, you have to take a balanced approach. There are a lot of issues to address to keep this a positive news story going forward.”

Sponsored content