Atlantic Canada has emerged as a COVID-19 haven in the past year for those fleeing crowded public transit, teeming grocery stores, long lines and absurdly high home prices in large Canadian cities.
And that steady migrant stream is gaining strength with Royal Bank of Canada reporting that net migration in Atlantic Canada was higher in the first and second quarters of 2021 than in 2019 and 2020 combined.
“The surge in the second quarter alone was the largest since 1961, when data collection began,” RBC economist Carrie Freestone wrote in a note this week. “Atlantic Canada is one of two coastal regions enjoying an influx of arrivals this year, alongside British Columbia.”
The eastern provinces moved early to root out COVID-19 and the’Atlantic Bubble’ that quarantined the region from other Canadian provinces clearly kept cases at the lower end of the scale. Although there has been the odd flare-up of COVID-19 cases in the region, the rate of cases per 100,000 population is a fraction of the Canadian national average.
The region is also leading on the vaccination front. At 75.83 per cent, Prince Edward Island has the highest rate of fully-vaccinated people in the country, followed by Newfoundland & Labrador at 74.13 per cent; Nova Scotia and New Brunswick also boast fully- innoculated rate similar to the national average of 70 per cent, according to Health Canada.
Data from the Canadian Real Estate Association and Nova Scotia Migration suggests that around 9,263 people moved to Nova Scotia from other provinces in the second quarter, up 55.5 per cent from a year earlier, with Ontarians and Albertans most keen to buy one-way tickets (or one-way road trips) to the Atlantic. International immigration to the province also rose 55.6 per cent from the same period in 2020.
One reason for Ontarians eyeing the Atlantic?
The average price of a home sold in Nova Scotia stood at $355,987 in August — a steal by Toronto standards. In contrast, the average selling price for all home types in Canada’s largest city stood at $1,136,280, latest data from the Toronto Regional Real Estate Board shows.
Indeed, Nova Scotia may have also caught the housing construction bug so common in more populous Canadian provinces.
“The construction and finance, insurance and real estate (FIRE) industries are making solid contributions to over-all economic activity,” TD Bank noted in its quarterly provincial forecast in September. “The former is being buoyed by strong housing construction and the government’s commitment to spend $1.2 billion on capital projects, while the province’s heated housing market has helped FIRE employment increase by 5 per cent year-to-date.”
Similarly, New Brunswick saw a 59.4 per cent jump in migration during the second quarter (compared to the same period in 2020), what CREA and New Brunswick Migration believe is the highest quarterly population increase in the province, since they started keep records. Again, Ontarians led the influx. The benchmark price for single-family homes in New Brunswick was $259,300.
Newfoundland and Labrador saw a 76.3 per cent surge in migration during the period mostly from Alberta, Ontario, and Nova Scotia compared to a year earlier. Prince Edward Island also saw a 28.2 per cent jump in migration with most people coming from Saskatchewan and, you guessed it, Ontario. Both provinces had average home prices of around $330,000.
RBC estimates that around 55 per cent of Canadians who moved to Atlantic Canada in the second quarter settled in Nova Scotia, with Halifax the fastest growing city in the country so far in 2021 in terms of population.
“Another 25 per cent moved to New Brunswick, while Newfoundland — a province that typically posts a negative net interprovincial migration balance—has seen arrivals from other provinces outweigh departures for two quarters in a row,” Freestone noted. “PEI welcomed the greatest number of Canadians from other provinces since the early-1960s, and posted the strongest population growth of all provinces this year.”
And it is young people — no doubt tired of the Baby Boomer generation dominating real estate market in big cities — who were most eager to move out east. Canadians aged between the 18-24 year and 25-44 age brackets accounted for 44 per cent of interprovincial migration to Atlantic Canada.
“Another 17 per cent of net interprovincial migration was children and teens, signaling families are moving east as well,” the RBC economist said.
The big influx could provide a much needed boost to the Atlantic economies. Currently, most eastern provinces lag national real GDP growth levels, with New Brunswick (3.6 per cent GDP growth), Newfoundland (+3.8 per cent), Prince Edward Island (+ 4 per cent), and Nova Scotia (+4.2 per cent) trailing the 4.9 per cent national GDP growth forecast in 2021, according to TD Bank.
The region is also expected to underperform the Canadian GDP growth levels in 2022, and post sub-2 per cent GDP growth in 2023, compared to 2.8 per cent for all of Canada.
Meanwhile, Newfoundland’s unemployment rate is the highest in the country and is forecast to remain well above 12 per next over the next three years, while the three Maritime provinces will see unemployment rate hover above 7 per cent till at least 2023, exceeding the national average of 5.6 per cent.