Not long ago, Montreal was Canada’s leading city—its beating, bilingual heart. Then things changed, and boy they changed quickly. Toronto passed Montreal in the early 1970s. Forty years later, the two cities are a league apart in terms of size. In another sixty or so years, history will repeat itself, this time with Vancouver.
Based on my calculations, which I’ll get to in a minute, the two cities will be neck and neck by the 2070s. In the last half of that decade, Vancouver will slip past Montreal, and the rest, as they say, will be future-history. It’s a ballpark figure, no question. Take a look at the chart below:
So, how did I come up with these numbers? In short, Statistics Canada figures. Every five years, StatsCan measures population growth in Canadian cities. I compared the census metropolitan area (CMA) figures—essentially, the metro regions—as opposed to those of the city proper, which are far more arbitrary (the City of Vancouver is technically smaller than the City of Winnipeg).
From 2006 to 2011, the last time StatsCan reported figures, Vancouver grew by 9.3%, Montreal by 5.2%. It’s tempting to think this difference might be a historic blip, but that’s simply not the case. In fact, in 2001, Montreal’s growth was closer to 3%, a third of Vancouver’s. This lull came amid a Parti Québécois rein, like the one Quebec is under now, before bouncing back under the Liberals.
To keep things simple, I applied only the latest census figures to get my estimate. Basically, I imagined Vancouver growing by 9.3% every five years, and Montreal by 5.2%, until the former passed the latter. But considering the current political climate in Quebec—particularly the province’s push for a charter that disproportionally limits the religious freedom of immigrants, who drive population growth in Canada—Montreal may fall to third even sooner than my chart suggests. The city already has problems retaining its immigrants, many of whom leave for the likes of Toronto and Vancouver. The PQ could make a bad situation worse.
There are other uncertainties, as well, such as Canada’s immigration intake, which has been locked at roughly 250,000 for two decades. While I’ve argued that figure should be higher, increasing immigration is a tough sell politically. The current intake won’t decrease—all three major parties are pro-immigration—but, as a percentage of our population, our intake is floundering by staying the same.
And, of course, Quebec could change course.