2016 Census Rollout - Municipal Implications

2016 Census Rollout - Municipal Implications

Colin Macdonald

March 3, 2017

The 2016 Census - Population and Dwelling Count Data

Throughout 2017, Statistics Canada will be releasing data from the 2016 Census Program. On February 8, 2017, the population and dwelling count data was released. For more details on the 2016 Census Program release schedule see the Statscan release page.

The rollout of the Census data can impact municipalities in multiple ways; the demographic trends observed can alter our plans for future spending. The data from the census is often a primary source of information for decision-makers at both the provincial and federal orders of government and can have significant impacts on program funding allocations. For example, the Federal Gas Tax is allocated to Province based on populations, which is then allocated to municipalities based on similar criteria; according to Infrastructure Canada the Gas Tax Fund will begin using 2016 Census data for its 2019 allocations.

The Picture Province-wide

According to the 2016 Census Provincial Highlight Tables, Canada's population grew at a rate of approximately 5% since 2011. Relatively, Ontario is slightly behind growing at 4.6%. Ontario's population still makes up 38.26% of Canada's population, compared to 38.39% in 2011.

99.32% of Ontario's population lives within Ontario's municipalities, with the remainder living in unincorporated territories; this figure is down .02% from 2011.

Figure 1.1 shows percentage change by Census division. Unlike the following tables and graphs, this data also includes unincorporated territories. While much of southern and eastern Ontario are showing growth in the 0 to 5% range, the areas around the City of Toronto are growing in the 5 - 10% range, while the City itself is in the 0 to 5 % growth range along with much of the rest of Southern Eastern and South Western Ontario, with a few exceptions for higher growth and a couple of districts (Chatham-Kent, Brant, and Prince Edward County) showing some population decline.

Much of North Eastern Ontario is showing slight decline with the notable exception around the Sudbury region. It should be noted that while the population in these areas are largely declining, we will show evidence later that approximately half of the municipalities are stable or showing growth.

North Western Ontario is showing a mix of rapid growth in the Kenora census division and slight decline in the Rainy River and Thunder Bay districts.

Figure 1.2 shows the expected changes in Ontario based on the Ontario Ministry of Finance's population projections for 2016. You will note that growth in many of the census divisions is slightly less than expected, particularly in the areas around Toronto and the North East.

Figure 1.3 shows a histogram of the percentage difference between projected population and the 2016 census populations. Most census divisions have a lower population than projected in the Spring of 2016, with two census divisions coming in at approximately 8% lower than projected.

The Municipal Picture

Overall municipalities in Ontario are growing. The median population in Ontario municipalities rose from 6,808 in 2011 to 7,081 in 2016, meaning 50% of municipalities in Ontario have a population of at least 7,081. Meanwhile the average population rose from 45,895 to 48,114 in 2016, but as we will see a large part of that can be attributed to growth in the large urbans. In terms of percentage of population change, the average was 2.074% and the median was 2.032%. The biggest positive population shift was 39% while the largest decline was 44.99%. See table 1.1, below, for more details.

Table 1.1: Summary Statistics on Municipal Population Data


Population 2016

Population 2011

Percent Population Change


Min. : 0

Min. : 0

Min. :-44.988


1st Qu.: 1747

1st Qu.: 1808

1st Qu.: -1.182


Median : 7081

Median : 6808

Median : 2.032


Mean : 48144

Mean : 45895

Mean : 2.074


3rd Qu.: 20457

3rd Qu.: 18653

3rd Qu.: 5.107


Max. :2731571

Max. :2615060

Max. : 39.001

Figure 1.4 below shows that bulk of municipalities are relatively stable in terms of population change. As noted in table 1.1, the mean change in population is 2.074%, and most fall within the -5% to 5% range and municipalities growing or declining at a rate of more than 10% are few.

Municipalities by MSO Region

When looking at municipalities in the MSO regions we'll not that the largest growth region was the Central region with 6.7% average growth and a median change of +4.78%. Municipalities in the North Western region saw the most decline with an average of -2.82% and a median change of -2.12%. See Table 1.2 to see the aggregate changes for municipalities in your region.

Table 1.2: Percentage Change in Population in Ontario Municipalities (by MSO Region)

MSO Region

Number of Municipalities

Average % Change

Median % Change

Min % Change

Max % Change













North Eastern






North Western












As shown in figure 1.5, above, the bulk of Ontario's population lives in the Central region. Municipalities in that region are also showing the most overall growth compared to 2011.

Municipalities by Population Group

When comparing municipalities it can be useful to group those that fall within a similar range of a particular attribute to note differences within the spectrum. In this instance we have divided Ontario's municipalities into 10 subgroups based on their population range.

Table 1.3, shows that, for the most part, smaller municipalities are getting smaller and large urbans are getting bigger. Municipalities that fall in the 20 to 50K, 200 to 500K, and the great than 500K ranges are experiencing the most growth, each with an average of above 5%.

Table 1.3: Percent Change in Population in Ontario Municipalities (by Population Group)

Population Group

Number of Municipalities

Average % Change

Median % Change

Min % Change

Max % Change







1 - 2.5K






2.5 - 5K






5 - 10K






10 - 20K






20 - 50K






50 - 100K






100 - 200K






200K - 500K












Figure 1.6 shows how many people live in municipalities of different sizes. When compared to table 1.3's 'Number of Municipalities' counts it is clear that while there are substantively more smaller municipalities their collective population pales in comparison to the larger urban municipalities.


Some of the observations yielded through cursory analysis are:

             Ontario is growing but at a slower rate than the rest of Canada.

             Most of Ontario's population lives within municipal boundaries; however, population growth in unincorporated territories slightly outpaced that of municipalities, relatively speaking.

             Ontario's population change is lower than projections for most census divisions.

             Most of Ontario's municipalities experienced slight decline or slight growth (-5% to +5%), but there were a few outliers with over 10% decline or growth on either side of the spectrum.

             On aggregate, municipalities in the Central MSO region are growing at a faster pace, while municipalities in the North West MSO region are showing some decline.

             On aggregate, smaller municipalities are getting smaller or are stagnant and the larger urban municipalities are showing more rapid growth.

Municipalities should note changes in their census data, particularly their position relative to other municipalities in Ontario. They will impact your municipality's ability to generate own source revenue in the future, and they should impact your plans for future infrastructure spending.

Census data will also factor into formula-based funding, as is case with the aforementioned Federal Gas Tax. Population, households, and median household income, in particular, often factor into formula-based funding allocations, such as the Ontario Communities Infrastructure Fund (OCIF) and several programs under the Ontario Municipal Partnership Fund (OMPF).

Data Sources

             A financial information return (FIR) compatible datafile with 2016 Census data for all 444 Ontario municipalities is now available in MFOA's Virtual Library in CSV format. The datafile is compatible with FIR data in that it shares a common municipal ID code attribute (MUNID). It can be found under 'Data Files.'

             The maps were created using 2016 census boundary files, which can be found on the Statistics Canada website.

             Municipal Service Office (MSO) regions were determined using the Ministry of Municipal Affairs Financial Information Return dataset for the year 2009 - the Current Year, available in CSV and RDA formats on the FIR website.

             The Ontario Ministry of Finance population projections uses the 2016 projections for census divisions from their annual population projections, from 2016 to 2041. The data can be found in XLSX format in the Province of Ontario's data catalogue.


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