NWT’s population flatlines as rest of Canada grows

Aircraft and ground crew at Yellowknife Airport in October 2022. Ollie Williams/Cabin Radio
Aircraft and ground crew at Yellowknife Airport in October 2022. Ollie Williams/Cabin Radio

The Northwest Territories’ population dropped by five people in the past year as every other Canadian jurisdiction grew, new data shows.

Population estimates published by Statistics Canada on Wednesday suggest the NWT had a population of 45,602 people on October 1 this year, down from 45,607 on October 1, 2021.

Across Canada as a whole, the population grew by 2.3 percent. The NWT was the only territory or province not to grow its population by at least one percent in the past year.

There were 546 births and 277 deaths in the NWT during the past year, increasing the population by 269. On top of that, international migration boosted the territory’s population by 319 people.



But that gain of 588 people through births and an international influx was entirely wiped out by interprovincial migration.

While 1,950 people moved to the Northwest Territories in the past year, 2,543 people moved away, a net deficit of 593.

That pattern isn’t new. In only three years since 1992 (1994, 2002 and 2003) has domestic migration into the Northwest Territories exceeded the number of people leaving the NWT for the rest of Canada.

International migration into the territory is on the up. It’s increasingly common for more than 100 people to migrate to the NWT in any given quarter, a figure that was well below 50 people for most quarters prior to 2017.



But numbers of births are not what they once were (the territory posted more than 800 births annually for much of the 1990s), while the number of deaths annually in the NWT continues to creep up – partly a function of the territory’s ageing population. There were more than 250 deaths annually in each of 2020 and 2021, a first in the territory’s history and a figure it looks likely to roughly match again this year.

Population is often considered a sign of economic strength. In the NWT’s case, extra residents also come with extra federal transfer payments that help to fund programs and services.

But the territorial government has shied away from formalizing population growth as a goal.

Earlier this year, the GNWT rejected a call from regular MLAs for a plan to grow the territory’s population by 25 percent in the next 20 years.

In a written response, the territorial government said a new strategy was unnecessary.

“The exercise of developing another strategy to encourage population growth will not necessarily provide new answers to the issue of sustainable economic development,” the GNWT wrote.

“Population growth is critical in the North and departments are undertaking a number of projects and programs to support the goal.

“To refocus resources on developing a new strategy would take away from the work currently being done in departments to advance the overarching goal of population growth and economic sustainability.”