Canada's population of those 85 and older is expected to triple by 2073 to as many as 4.3 million people, an increase that will likely place new pressure on the country on several fronts, one demographer says.

Statistics Canada said in its projections released Monday that the country's population could reach a medium-growth forecast of 63 million by 2073 and at least 3.3 million will be over 85. 

The agency said the aging population and low birthrates mean that migration will be the key driver of Canada's growth for the foreseeable future. 

"Natural increase — that is, the balance of births minus deaths — would play only a marginal role, given the anticipated rise in the number of deaths due to population aging, as well as low fertility, a situation observed in many other countries," Statistics Canada said in the projection.

Ottawa-based demographer Doug Norris said Canada's population has been on an aging trend for many years as the baby boomer demographic gets older.

Norris, chief demographer at data consultancy Environics Analytics, said the senior population will put double the pressure on the labour market because people are not only aging out of the work they provide but also aging into needing services provided by others.

"We've heard a lot recently about long-term care, about the need for support for people to perhaps age in place, live in their residence for as long as they can, that help with that is needed," he said.

"Related to all of that is our need for workers to work in long-term care facilities, to work more generally in the health area, simply because the demands for those kinds of services are going to increase tremendously."

Norris said the labour demand in seniors care also means that Canada must plan its population growth, driven by in-migration, to directly address the areas where workers are needed.

The aging trend is expected to be in place in all provinces and territories, Statistics Canada said. 

The projections do note, however, that some regions will fare better than others in maintaining population growth, with British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan all expected to take up more of Canada's overall population in the next 50 years.

Provinces such as Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Quebec are expected to see a population decrease, and Statistics Canada said some jurisdictions may even see an outright decrease in residents between 2023 and 2048.

B.C. Premier David Eby said Monday he was not surprised that the province was likely to outpace other Canadian jurisdictions, but added that the growth comes with pressures that require the federal government to recognize and support them. 

Eby, who has been critical of Ottawa not giving B.C. more funding support while favouring Quebec and Ontario, said the federal government needs to help fund and build infrastructure if its policies on immigration result in the population increases.

"If we don't have that federal partner, we will struggle with this growth," Eby said, citing the Massey Tunnel replacement project and the Iona Island water treatment plant in Metro Vancouver as examples of the need for increased funding from Ottawa.

"These are federal policies that are resulting in this growth, which we welcome and we understand them. But we have to have matching federal infrastructure support to make sure that British Columbia remains a great place to raise a family, a great place to retire in, a great place to grow."

Norris said decision-makers also need to look at projections for individual communities because if migration drives increases, that growth would congregate in major cities, increasing the burden for housing and other services, while it does little to address the decline in rural areas.

"We can make the generalities overall, but even within provinces there's an awful lot of difference," Norris said. "While we're talking about all this growth, we still have regional parts of our country which are declining in population.

"They're presented with a whole different challenge of how are they are going to be sustainable in the long term. You hear about the post office or the banks closing up in small towns because the population is declining.

"We really are a very diverse country, and we need to understand the diversity not only in terms of aging and population, but in many other ways as well."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 24, 2024.