A file photo of a Yukon-based Air North aircraft. Photo: Air North
For the first time in more than a century, the Yukon’s population now outstrips that of the Northwest Territories.
In figures released last week, Statistics Canada estimated the Yukon to have 44,975 people – three individuals more than the NWT, where the population was estimated to be 44,972.
That difference is well within the statistical margin of error, and the figures don’t represent a precise count. But they do represent the first time the Yukon has come out ahead in such a count in modern times.
You have to go back to 1911 to find census data in which the Yukon, with 8,512 inhabitants, was larger by population than the Northwest Territories, which at the time had 6,507 residents, despite then spanning an enormous tract of land from the Arctic coast across modern Nunavut and down through much of what is now Ontario.
The new figures, which are estimates for the populations as they stood on July 1, 2023, relegate the NWT to 12th place among provinces and territories by habitation, above only Nunavut (estimated at 40,673 people).
Yukon moves ahead of the NWT through a combination of factors, including some significant recalculations based on processing of 2021 census data.
As a result, an increase of around 300 people reported in the past year, which might normally have looked like a positive uptick, appears inconsequential by comparison.
How the on-paper “loss” of so many people – thanks to the change in data – will affect the territory’s funding is not clear. The NWT is reliant on more than a billion dollars a year in federal funding tied in part to its population growth versus the rest of Canada, through a system known as Territorial Formula Financing. Population is only one component in a complex formula that decides how much the NWT receives annually.
The NWT’s population grew by 0.6 percent between July 2022 and July 2023. That’s the second-lowest increase behind Nunavut and compares to Canada-wide growth of three percent, the largest year-on-year figure for the country since 1957.
Migration from abroad drove both the Canadian increase and the NWT’s more limited growth.
The territory had a net loss of 432 people to southern Canada over the past year, but compensated with 190 more births than deaths, plus a net gain of 529 people from other countries.
An estimated 173 people arrived in the NWT from abroad between April and July this year, the territory’s largest quarterly figure in decades and, in all probability, ever.
In the past year, the NWT government has begun rolling out new immigration initiatives designed to keep that number high, on the basis that more people coming in means an economic boost (one that officials say outstrips the added costs of services).
The latest such initiative, announced last week, involves reducing the amount of money immigrants must provide up front if they want to move to the NWT to start a business.
That sum is now $200,000 for Yellowknife or $100,000 if you move to another NWT community, down from previous minimum sums of $300,000 and $150,000 respectively.
Immigrants taking up that option are offered “a pathway to Canadian permanent residence for experienced businesspeople who establish themselves, invest, and operate a viable business in the Northwest Territories that significantly benefits the economy,” the territory stated in a news release.