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An Aging Population…Let the Games Begin

By Jock Finlayson

An update on Canada’s demographic future from Statistics Canada confirms what is readily discernable through casual observation:  the population is growing modestly but is becoming greyer at an accelerating pace.

Under all of the scenarios modelled by Statistics Canada’s researchers, the country’s population is on track to exceed 40 million by 2063 (up from 35.2 million in 2013).  Three different scenarios are examined.  The slow-growth scenario puts the population at 40 million in fifty years’ time; the medium-growth scenario has the population expanding to reach 51 million in 2063; and a high-growth scenario sees the number of Canadians swelling to 63.5 million.  The scenarios differ in their assumptions regarding future immigration levels, fertility rates and longevity.  For planning purposes, the most prudent approach is to use the medium-growth scenario.

In all scenarios, the proportions of senior citizens within the national population – defined as people aged 65 and over – climb.  From 15.3% today, the ranks of seniors will expand to between 22.2% and 23.7% of the Canadian population by 2030, according to the study.  A proportionately smaller working age population coupled with a larger number of elderly “dependents” will put downward pressure on economic growth at the same time as the public and private sectors both face added fiscal burdens associated with an aging population.  The escalating cost of providing long-term care to the huge baby-boom generation is just one area where aging-related costs will increase dramatically.

Turning to the demographic outlook for British Columbia, the province’s population increases and ages under all three scenarios. By 2038, BC is expected to have between 5.2 million and 6.7 million people, up from 4.6 million today.   The share of the population aged 65 and over is projected to rise to between 24% and 27% by the end of the 2030s, up significantly from the current figure and higher than the Canadian average.

Because British Columbia will end up with proportionately more seniors than most other provinces, it seems reasonable to expect that health care costs will be under stronger upward pressure here.  This suggests the BC government should be pressing Ottawa to tweak the formulas used to calculate federal transfers to account for the differential fiscal effects of population aging across the country.