First Reading is a daily newsletter keeping you posted on the travails of Canadian politicos, all curated by the National Post’s own Tristin Hopper. To get an early version sent directly to your inbox, sign up here.
The Canadian birth rate is continuing to drop to historical lows — a trend that is likely connected to the crushing price of housing for young people looking to start families.
Statistics Canada confirmed last week that 351,679 babies were born in 2022 — the lowest number of live births since 345,044 births were recorded in 2005.
The disparity is all the more notable given that Canada had just 32 million people in 2005, as compared to the 40 million it counted by the end of 2022. In 2005, it was already at historic lows for Canada to have a fertility rate of 1.57 births per woman. But given the 2022 figures, that fertility rate has now sunk to 1.33.
Fertility rates have been dropping all across the developed world for decades, but the recent downturn in Canada has been so sharp that Statistics Canada has warned that if current trends continue, Canada could soon be ranked among the lowest fertility countries on earth.
“Canada could join the countries with the ‘lowest-low’ fertility rates … a situation associated with rapid population aging and increased stress on the labour market, public health care and pension systems,” wrote the statistical agency in May 2022.
The “lowest-low” club is all those countries with a fertility rate of less than 1.3 children per woman — a group that includes Japan, Italy, South Korea and China.
Canada’s primary difference from these places, however, is its high rate of immigration. Thus, while the likes of Italy and China are planning for structural population decline in the coming decades, Canada is planning for a population surge to 50 million by 2043 that will be comprised almost exclusively of newcomers.
As for why Canadians are abandoning child-rearing faster than ever, Statistics Canada has hinted that the skyrocketing cost of shelter probably has a lot to do with it.
In a survey published last month, the agency found that more than a third of young Canadians were setting aside plans for a family due purely to financial reasons. Of Canadians in their 20s, Statistics Canada found that 38 per cent of them “did not believe they could afford to have a child in the next three years” — with about that same number (32 per cent) saying they doubted they’d be able to find “suitable housing” in which to care for a baby.
This was a trend that first showed up during COVID-19 lockdowns, when one in four Canadians of childbearing age reported plans to delay childbirth or have fewer children overall as a result of the uncertainties created by the pandemic.
When the end of the pandemic wound up coinciding with massive spikes to rent, housing prices and other costs of living, it appears to have done little to dissuade the “delay children” crowd.
The net result — which is already showing itself in poll data — may well be a generation of Canadians forced to have fewer children than they wanted, and regretting that they couldn’t have more.
A January survey by the Angus Reid Group asked women to list the ideal size of their family against its actual size, and concluded that the average Canadian woman reached the end of their childbearing years with 0.5 fewer children than they would have wanted.
“’Missing’ births vastly outnumber ‘excess’ births. Nearly half of women at the end of their reproductive years have had fewer children than they wanted,” it concluded.
That same survey also found that children — much like houses themselves — were increasingly becoming a marker of wealth.
“In Canada, unlike many other countries, fertility rates and desires rise with income: richer Canadians have more children,” it read.
IN OTHER NEWS
There are two perennial problems with Canadian military procurement. One, that the Department of Defence never replaces anything until the original is literally falling apart. Two, that when Canada does buy something, a thicket of red tape and political meddling causes that thing to become exponentially more expensive than necessary. And so it is with the Canadian Surface Combatant program, a plan to replace all of Canada’s largest warships with a fleet of made-from-scratch all-purpose fighting vessels. As noted by the National Post’s John Ivison, the per-ship cost is now up to $5.6 billion – that’s more than what the U.K. spent for an entire aircraft carrier.
Canada got a new Speaker (Greg Fergus) on Tuesday to replace the one (Anthony Rota) that resigned after inviting a Nazi to Parliament. Tuesday also saw U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy ousted by a congressional vote. So by sheer coincidence, for a single calendar day both the U.S. and Canada had a vacant speaker’s seat in the lower house of their respective federal parliaments. Of course, the U.S. speaker is an extremely powerful political position that is third in line to the U.S. presidency, whereas ours is basically just someone in a tricorn hat who presides over debates.
Get all of these insights and more into your inbox by signing up for the First Reading newsletter here.