Why Care About Canada’s 2021 Census? Your Future is at Stake!
City Conversations we Should ALL be Having
February 9th, 2022—Statistics Canada today released detailed data about what’s happened to Canada’s population over the past five years. Vested interests will be jostling to get their message into your head as the one true reality—my take on Vancouver’s modest changes and BC’s possible futures follows:
Vancouver City 2021 Census Summary Data—Credit Stats Canada
“Seriously, Dad?” My son was looking over my shoulder at the 2021 Statistics Canada (StatsCan) summary data for Vancouver. He continued. “You’ve been grousing on about this census for some time now—equal parts restless anticipation and ulcer-making worry! Who cares?”
“Well,” I responded, “you should because it’s really all about you and your generation.”
“Dad,” he continued with more than a little impatience, “First of all, it’s historic and do I really care about what’s happened population-wise in the past five years, or 15 or 20, for that matter? Secondly, what does it do for me going forward—my job and career, my prosperity, my chances of ever owning a home?”
“All good questions,” I answered. “It’s definitely what’s up next for you that should be of interest. That’s why, even more important than the numbers is what people say about the numbers.”
“Okay, I’ll bite,” he bravely suggested. “What are people saying and how can that affect me?”
“Well, first out of the blocks is our own BC Government and its just published Labour Market Outlook (LMO). It’s bravely forecasting more than one million new jobs will be created in BC into the next decade, which will require, by my calculation, a yearly population expansion rate of 4% just to fill these projected jobs and including their family members.”
Credit CBC article, “Despite pandemic, Canada's population grows at fastest rate in G7: census”
“How can that be bad,” he asked. “Won’t that growth and those job opportunities benefit my generation?”
“Well,” I answered, “in the past decade, which has been pretty booming here,” he nodded at that, “BC’s population has expanded on average just over 1.5% per year—BC’s fastest growing larger city, Surrey, expanded by an average of just under 3%, with its best year ever, 2010, showing just less than 4% growth. Meanwhile, our neighbour, Alberta, saw population growth of 3% in its best year ever, 2005-06, at the height of the oil boom.” He waited for me to further dissect the numbers.
“So the LMO is cheerfully suggesting we need to grow more than our big boom neighbour every year for the next decade. They’re suggesting we need to expand every single year almost as much as Alberta has expanded in the last five.”
He paused, then responded more thoughtfully than I sometimes give him credit for. “Won’t that continuous 4% growth rate make for a lot of prosperity?”
“I see two problems with that statement,” I responded. “Firstly, that same LMO says that 80% of these one million jobs will be in areas that generally consume rather than create wealth: “The largest number of job openings are expected in the health care, social assistance and education industries. This will in part include jobs in early childhood education, counselling, child protection and community housing and food services.” It looks like the remaining 20% of jobs will be expected to generate the wealth to support the 80%: “Science and technology jobs will also be in high demand with 111,000 job openings projected and 85,000 job openings expected in skilled trades, which will offer careers ranging from cooks and automotive service technicians to construction workers and hairstylists.” He waited patiently for my punchline.
“At the moment, three quarters of BC jobs are in what might be termed wealth creation areas, according to the government’s own statistics. So going forward, the BC government seems quite happy if those three quarters of workers, who currently generate the investment and taxes to support the other quarter employed in essential services, diminishes to one fifth of new and replacement jobs. It’s as if three carpenters retire, to be replaced by only one, working just part-time, plus four nurses, doctors and teachers, all depending on the part-time carpenter’s construction work to provide the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) needed to fund their incomes and the physical and social infrastructure they need. It’s not nearly as simple as that analogy, but the projected inversion of jobs in the province is very worrying.” He raised his eyebrows at that analogy so I continued, hoping not to dig myself in any deeper.
“The second concern I have about this projected 4% population expansion comes back to today’s defining issue for you and your generation—the unaffordability of homes for rent or to own.” He nodded hesitantly, acknowledging the precariousness of his currently affordable older rental studio, located as it is close enough to the under-construction Broadway SkyTrain to be threatened with replacement via high-rise—we’ve talked previously about that. I continued.
“There’s no evidence that the Broadway Plan, the Jericho Lands, really any of the city’s individual or large scale spot rezonings is going to produce homes where you can raise children.” Now I had his attention. He thought for a moment, suggested hesitantly:
“So that part-time carpenter who’s supposed to build the buildings that will be sold or rented to provide tax income that supports the nurse, doctor and teacher—where are they, and I, supposed to live?”
I replied: “I’ve mentioned how one city is requiring affordable rental whenever anyone looks to rezone. We’ve discussed how affordable it could be to add laneway homes and secondary suites throughout the city.” He nodded. “I think the best hope for Vancouver is to make it easier for everyone to add a home or two, or three, to their existing home’s lot and for the owners of already-zoned properties to develop them into the type of low-rise homes that we know cost less, have less environmental impact and are more neighbourly.”
“ And for those who want to go big, with a high-rise, for example, they should be required to add a fixed percentage of truly affordable homes—Burnaby’s 20% looks good to me as a starting point. As an aside, the 2021 census suggests more than 20% of Vancouver’s homes are unoccupied—think investment condos and empty homes.” We both frowned at this. “So I also think we need to do more to add those homes to the stock immediately available for sale or rent. So far, no level of government has done anything effective to make that happen—I don’t know about you, but I’m losing patience!”
Thinking of my son’s resilience and fearless weekend forays into BC’s back country and snowboard slopes, I continued: “If none of that works, there’s always your van, which you’ve made over to accommodate your camping, biking and boarding adventures.”
His face fell. I walked around the desk, gave him back one of his trademark big hugs. “You’re always welcome here,” I concluded. “There’s comfort in that, I hope, but no future until government gets serious about balancing population and job growth with affordability.”
Today’s question: Is your current home affordable for you to rent or own? I read and respond to all comments made below. If you enjoyed this post, consider becoming a free subscriber to City Conversations at
Brian Palmquist is a fully vaccinated Vancouver-based architect, building envelope and building code consultant and LEED Accredited Professional (the first green building system). He is semi-retired for the moment, still teaching and writing, so not beholden to any client or city hall. These conversations mix real discussion with research and observations based on a 40+ year career including the planning, design and construction of almost every type and scale of project. He is the author of the Amazon best seller “An Architect’s Guide to Construction.” He is also a member of team for a livable Vancouver, a new political party dedicated to restoring a livable Vancouver starting with the 2022 civic election.
I agree with your comment about Burnaby. Market housing won’t include truly affordable housing unless it’s required.
Brian, as I am in the business of development, I am aware that requirements and fees have to get passed on to purchasers of homes. It would also be interesting to know how much that particular requirement in Burnaby, actually costs per home or per sf.