Two-thirds of Canada’s rapid population increase over the past five years came from immigration – a force that in coming decades will account for almost all of the country’s growth, according to census figures released Tuesday.

Unlike the United States, where an influx of legal and illegal immigrants has fueled heated debate, there is little public discussion in Canada on the issue.

The data released by Statistics Canada show the country’s population grew 5.4 percent, the highest rate among the Group of Eight industrial nations.

Among the G-8 countries, only the United States, at 5.0 percent, approached Canada’s growth. France and Italy grew 3.1 percent and Britain 1.9 percent, while growth for Japan and Germany was near zero and Russia’s population shrank 2.4 percent.

With births slowing, Canada is reaching a unique situation, said Laurent Martel, a Statistics Canada analyst. “We’re heading towards a point where immigration will be the only source of growth in Canada,” he said.

About 1.2 million new immigrants accounted for most of Canada’s growth over the five years, far outpacing the addition of 400,000 native-born citizens, for a total population of 31.6 million.

Canada’s net migration, per capita, is among the world’s highest. It recorded an estimated net migration of 5.85 migrants per 1,000 population in 2006, compared to 3.18 migrants per 1,000 population for the U.S., according to the CIA World Factbook.

“We have not strategically thought through how we should manage our largest single source of population for net growth,” Michael Bloom, a vice president with the Conference Board of Canada, told The Canadian Press.

Canada’s birth rate is about 1.5 children per woman, well below the replacement rate of 2.1.

The country’s shift toward immigration as the only source of growth is still a couple of decades away. That point will not be reached until after 2030, when the peak of the baby boomers born in the 1950s and early 1960s reach the end of their lives.

“You’re going to see an increase in the number of deaths in Canada, and the number of deaths will exceed the number of births – so natural increase will become negative,” said Martel. “The only factor of growth will then be immigration.”

Via the Guardian