Ontario’s population will grow, but lacks support for aging
Ontario’s population is expected to grow steadily over the next two decades, but the province may lack the infrastructure to support a burgeoning and aging population, some experts warn.
The number of residents in the province could climb to more than 19 million by 2043, an increase of about 30% since 2021, according to new projections from Statistics Canada.
That figure is based on a medium growth forecast, described in a report released Monday, which presents various population projections for the coming decades. The province’s population, which stands at 14.8 million in 2021, could exceed 21.0 million by 2043.
But Ontario is ill-prepared to handle the growth because it lacks housing and general infrastructure to support the growing population, especially in major urban centers like Toronto, some experts say.
“It’s obvious: we’re not prepared,” said Phil Soper, president and CEO of Royal LePage. « We can’t even handle the population growth we’ve seen over the past 20 years – as households get smaller, people live longer and the number of immigrants increases – let alone the potential growth over the next two decades. »
The lack of affordable housing and planning for population growth in Toronto could hamper the city’s future economic potential, said Sheila Block, senior economist at the Canadian Center for Policy Alternatives. She noted that livability and sustainability are priorities for residents and investors.
« If we don’t increase the supply of affordable housing, people will live in substandard housing, » she said. « We’re going to see more under-housed people. »
The city is already living with the consequences of poor planning and a growing population, said Block, who pointed to the affordable housing crisis.
« We need to talk about a sustainable future, a future where we see less damage from climate change and more equity, » she said. « These are the kinds of issues that need to be addressed, and affordable housing is just one piece of that pie. »
Soper believes federal and provincial governments will soon be forced to face the crisis and “act aggressively” to support the population increase.
« Growth will force mandatory intensification laws, where community groups won’t be allowed to delay housing development because they don’t like it, » he predicted.
Ontario’s population growth, as well as that of Canada as a whole, will be largely driven by immigration, noted Patrice Dion, demographer at Statistics Canada. In 2021, when Canada’s border largely reopened, the country accepted more than 400,000 immigrants, accounting for 87.4% of the country’s population growth that year.
While Soper and Block say Ontario is unprepared for growth, they also say sustained immigration is needed to address another key concern: the aging population.
The country will have to rely on immigration to increase its cohort of working-age Canadians as the rate of natural growth (the number of births minus deaths) continues to decline, Block said.
« If you look at countries like Italy or Japan, which have broken immigration systems – Japan has been a very isolated country and it’s very difficult to become a citizen and Italy is not that different – they’re going to face the kind of challenges that Canada will, but to a much greater extent,” Soper said.
Although Statistics Canada’s population projections vary widely — different forecasts are based on a variety of factors, including fertility rates, life expectancies and immigration figures — one thing is almost certain: Canada is expected to experience explosive growth in its cohort of older seniors, while the proportion of children in the country is expected to decline.
More than 25% of the population will be 65 or older by 2068, up from 18.5% in 2021. Meanwhile, the number of Canadians over 85 could more than triple over this period, from 871,000 in 2021 to 3.2 million in 2068. .
Canada will need to consider how it cares for its seniors as more people join the crowd, said Bonnie-Jeanne MacDonald, director of financial security research at the National Institute on Aging.
« Over the next decade, we’re going to start to see huge numbers of people in need of care, » she said.
“Much more of us are going to be asked to take care of the elderly. The outlook for meeting this challenge is not good,” said MacDonald, who noted that supports for seniors have quickly crumbled during the pandemic.
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