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Housing costs put brakes on migration to B.C. from other provinces

By Jock Finlayson, Ken Peacock for Business in Vancouver

Over the second half of last year, a surprising development occurred – the net inflow of people moving to B.C. from other provinces fell sharply. The drop showed up in the third quarter and persisted through the final months of 2017. Looking ahead, we suspect that B.C. may receive fewer interprovincial migrants than pundits and policy-makers have been counting on – particularly working-age migrants, as opposed to retirees. If our hunch is correct, employers in B.C. are likely to face more widespread hiring challenges in the years ahead.

Within Canada, people are free to move and work where they choose. As a result, migration has long been shaped by variations in economic and employment conditions across the provinces. When jobs were plentiful during the pre-Olympic boom years, for example, large numbers of people migrated to British Columbia from other parts of Canada. In the post-Olympic period, the net inflow gradually waned and then switched to a net outflow, mainly because Alberta’s economy was growing at nearly twice the rate of ours, and lots of high-paying jobs were created in the oilpatch.

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Then the 2014-15 oil price crash sent Alberta into a deep two-year tailspin. Over the same period, B.C.’s more diversified economy strengthened. Job growth surged in B.C., while many employers in Alberta were shedding staff. Moreover, employment growth remained anemic in most other parts of the country. With B.C. boasting Canada’s lowest unemployment rate, the net inflow of people from other provinces accelerated. By mid-2014, interprovincial migration was adding more than 5,000 people to B.C.’s population every quarter – upwards of 20,000 annually. Over the subsequent three years, net interprovincial migration ranged between 4,000 and 6,000 per quarter. But in the third quarter of 2017, the net inflow plummeted to 500, and it stayed low (at 800) in Q4.

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