Canada’s smallest province had the biggest year-over-year population growth last year in the country – thanks to an influx of immigrants. Now, for the first time in its history (and as promised by Premier Wade MacLauchlan’s Liberal government), Prince Edward Island’s population hit the 150,000 mark.

The latest figures from Statistics Canada show that P.E.I’.s population growth rate from July 2016 to July 2017 was 1.7%, compared with the national rate of 1.2%. Roughly 90% of this growth is the result of immigration: more than 2,500 newcomers arrived during this 12-month period.

In addition, the provincial government set a new target in its most recent population action plan: 160,000 people by the end of 2022.

Immigration is central to that plan, which sets specific goals for different categories of newcomers: international immigration, interprovincial migration, immigrant retention, international students and business startups. The 14-page action plan, entitled Recruit, Retain, Repatriate, also makes it clear that a focus on immigration is synonymous with a focus on boosting the economy.

“If we hope to sustain our prosperity and quality of life, we need to square up to our opportunities and challenges related to population,” MacLauchlan says.

That means drawing people to the Island. Like some other regions, P.E.I. is grappling with a declining birth rate and an aging population. Immigration is essential to reversing the negative natural population growth rate – a reality political parties on the Island have long recognized. At a rate of 13.6 per thousand, the province had the highest immigration rate in the country last year (tied with Alberta).

By comparison, the immigration rate for Canada was 8.9 per thousand. Rising immigration to P.E.I. is now believed to be the way to reverse the long-standing decline in the province’s working-age population.

More people means a more robust economy. To that point, the government is clear – and taking action. Next up: hiring Island agents who will work overseas to promote P.E.I. as a place to do business and to assist qualified immigrants through the uprooting and resettling process.

Newcomers who plan to open businesses in rural areas or have skills needed in the workforce are a priority, says Sonny Gallant, minister for workforce and advanced learning: “Equally important is the retention of newcomers and Islanders, so that our workforce is ready for the jobs and economic prospects of the future.”

For the past 10 years, China has been the No. 1 country of origin for immigrants to the Island. However, in more recent years, there have been fewer immigrants coming from Iran, and more from India, the Philippines and Egypt.

The approach is proving successful. Last year, P.E.I. experienced its highest economic growth in more than a decade – 2.4%, compared with a national rate of 1.3%. According to the Greater Charlottetown Area Chamber of Commerce, much of that growth is linked to immigration.

This is welcome news for Islanders.

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