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North Shore population growth continues to lag behind Metro Vancouver average

West Vancouver’s growth rate is among the region’s slowest, according to recent StatCan data

Population growth on the North Shore continues to tick along at a slow pace compared to other municipalities in the region, according to the latest data from Statistics Canada.

On Wednesday, the federal agency released its 2023 population estimates, showing growth below the Metro Vancouver average, especially in West Vancouver.

For the first time, these new estimates calculate population figures based on new municipal boundaries that were drawn in 2021. Metro was relatively unaffected by these changes.

From 2001 to 2023, the number of people living in the Metro region has shot up by 150 per cent. The average annual growth rate between 2022 and 2023 was 4.7 per cent.

In contrast, the District of West Vancouver’s population grew by just 11 per cent from 2001 to 2023 (42,691 to 47,396) and by just 2.1 per cent from 2022 to 2023. That’s among the slowest-growing municipalities in the Metro area.

Nearby Bowen Island’s population has increased by 48 per cent from 2001 to 2023 (3,056 to 4,506), but by just 1.9 per cent from 2022 to 2023.

In the City of North Vancouver, population has grown at a rate of 40.4 per cent since 2001, and by three per cent from 2022 to 2023.

And in the District of North Vancouver, the population has grown at a rate of 13.8 per cent over the past 22 years, and by 3.4 per cent in the most recently recorded year.

These estimates usually come out in January each year, but the work to update to newly drawn municipal boundaries delayed the release, explained Jens von Bergmann, president of MountainMath, a data consultancy that has advised the provincial government on demographics, housing and transportation.

Looking at the data, there was a dip in growth in the 2020-21 year due to the pandemic, followed by a steeper increase since then, especially in more central areas, von Bergmann said.

“One thing that’s sort of generally dominant and interesting to me is a divide of regions that are going slower than the average, and regions that are growing faster than the average,” he said.

“Generally, Surrey and the (Township) of Langley are the fastest growing ones, followed by Maple Ridge, New West, Port Moody … and everybody else grows slower. Usually at the bottom, we have places like West Vancouver and the District of North Vancouver, which grow the slowest of all regions within Metro Vancouver,” von Bergmann said.

Some municipalities resistant to build housing despite supply falling behind demand

If you go all the way back to 2001, the City of North Van is pretty close to the regional average, but growth picked up around 2007.

“Before that it was quite slow, in line with North Van [district] and West Van … and from then on grew faster than the regional average,” von Bergmann said.

The primary driver of growth is the amount of new housing that’s been built, he said.

“We know when we build housing, people move in,” von Bergmann said. “We have several taxes. The region overall is covered by the speculation and vacancy tax, so there might be some slippage there. But if we look at the stats, we know those units are all lived in, except for a very small percentage.”

The impacts of new measures, like provincial housing targets and eliminating public hearings for most residential development applications, won’t be felt for some time, he said.

And some municipalities are still resistant to change despite housing supply falling behind demand.

“We’ve seen in West Vancouver, for example, how they’ve reacted to the small-scale, multi-unit housing initiatives that the province brought in, when [the district] took an extremely narrow reading of what they could get away with, and basically said there are very few areas that need any adjustments to allow multiplexes,” von Bergmann said. “It shows me that there is still a high level of resistance to allow more housing.”

The data expert said he’s in the camp that thinks housing is good.

“People derive tremendous value from housing. And if you start restricting it, it’s going to hurt the low-income or less-privileged people the most,” he said.

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