Halifax, Nova Scotia, Waterfront

Unprecedented migration to Atlantic Canada, which could rejuvenate the region’s economy, may be one of the few positives to come out of the Covid-19 pandemic, suggests a new report from Royal Bank of Canada (RBC).

In the first half of 2021, interprovincial migration was stronger than for the previous two years combined, RBC reported, and the second quarter was the busiest on record.

Both the Atlantic region and British Columbia have been destinations for wandering Canadians, with Nova Scotia and New Brunswick enjoying particularly strong numbers.

Most of those new arrivals are coming from Ontario and Alberta, the report said.

“Lower Covid spread in the Maritimes probably amplified the region’s appeal. But relatively affordable housing was likely an even bigger draw, especially as home prices skyrocketed in already-expensive parts of the country and more Canadians were able to work remotely,” the report said.

Even with the influx of migrants, Saint John, N.B. and St. John’s, N.L. “remain the most affordable housing markets we track,” RBC said.

“With housing affordability worsening in major urban markets in Central Canada, this may mark the beginning of a trend: young talent moving east for an improved quality of life,” the report said.

RBC noted that 44% of the interprovincial migration to the Atlantic provinces has been by younger adults (aged 18 to 44), and another 17% are children, indicating that families have moved east too.

If this shift persists once the pandemic subsides, RBC said that the trend “would be great news for a region that has struggled to attract and retain people for decades.”

“A permanent influx of migrants would revitalize Atlantic Canada’s economy and potentially help address labour shortages,” it said.

Robust population growth could drive stronger consumer spending and higher government revenues, “fuelling this Atlantic revitalization,” it said.