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APEC Sees Continued Growth of Cities, Challenging Aging Dynamics in Rural Regions

Date: February 11, 2021

For Immediate Release

February 11, 2021 

HALIFAX – Atlantic Canada’s top six - Halifax, Charlottetown, St. John’s, Fredericton, Moncton and Saint John - have seen their population grow by 21% over the last two decades while the population in the rest of the region declined by 7%. The Atlantic Provinces Economic Council (APEC), expects these diverging population and economic dynamics to continue, according to the third report in its Looking Ahead series.

Urban Growth
Atlantic Canada’s top six cities currently contribute over 55% of regional output (GDP). “We expect urban centres will remain the primary drivers of economic growth,” says APEC’s Senior Policy Analyst, Fred Bergman. “Over the next two decades, we project real GDP growth in Atlantic Canada’s top six cities will average 1.7% per year, compared with 0.4% in the rest of the region.”

By 2030, APEC projects that more than half of the Atlantic population will live in these top 6 cities, up from 47% today, and 40% twenty years ago. Residential construction will be strongest in urban centres. APEC projects that the number of households in the top 6 cities will increase by 25% over the next two decades, with immigration a key driver of population growth.

Challenging Aging Dynamics in Rural Regions
Rural Atlantic Canada already has an older population than our urban centres, accounting for 53% of the region’s population but 62% of its seniors. “Rural areas will continue to age faster than cities,” says Bergman. “Twenty years from now, we project that 1 in 3 people living outside the top 6 cities in Atlantic Canada will be 65 or older.”

Rural employers will be particularly challenged. “Today there are only six young people ready to enter the labour force for every ten retirees in rural Atlantic Canada, says Bergman. “Looking ahead, the working-age population will shrink substantially, even with immigration to rural communities.”

APEC projects that rural regions will need to attract and retain between 4,500 and 7,000 immigrants each year to support their economic growth. Immigration to these regions averaged 3,000 annually from 2015 to 2019.

Preparing for the Future
APEC’s baseline projection foresees a continuation of recent urban-rural dynamics. However, greater remote work post-COVID-19 could lead to more people moving back to the Atlantic region from larger centres across Canada, potentially benefiting both urban and rural areas. Cities and communities across the region need to consider how they best facilitate healthy, inclusive and sustainable growth and how to create attractive places for an increasingly mobile workforce.

Download the full report [English] [French]

APEC’s Looking Ahead series is designed to assess Atlantic Canada’s demographic and economic future, and to stimulate informed discussion on how stakeholders can best respond. Past and current bulletins are available on APEC’s website at

To arrange an interview with Fred Bergman, Senior Policy Analyst, please contact: 

Erica Parrill 
Communications Manager 
Mobile: 902-877-2159 


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