January 17, 2022

Weekly EconMinute—Drivers of Excess Mortality

In this week’s EconMinute, we’re talking about who and what is driving excess mortality.

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One of the more interesting datasets Statistics Canada releases is excess mortality—how death rates in a given week vary from historical norms. We have evidence of excess mortality when the number of weekly deaths is consistently higher than expected, especially over several consecutive weeks.

Unsurprisingly, Canada experienced considerable excess mortality during the first, second, and third waves of the COVID-19 pandemic (data for the Omicron wave is not yet available). However, COVID-19 does not explain all the excess deaths.

Beginning in September 2020, an outsized proportion of Canada’s excess mortality started shifting westward—to Alberta and British Columbia. And the most recent data shows that Alberta and British Columbia are primarily driving current national excess mortality levels.

So how many deaths are we seeing in excess of historical norms?

  • From the beginning of July 2021 to the end of September 2021, there were 4,772 excess deaths in Canada or 7% more deaths than expected. Most of these deaths were observed in Alberta and British Columbia.
  • Alberta had 1,439 excess deaths or 20% more than expected. So far, 355 are attributed to COVID-19.
  • British Columbia had 2,492 excess deaths or 26% more than expected. So far, 285 are attributed to COVID-19.
  • The gap with the rest of Canada is largely in the under-45 age group and is linked to unintentional poisonings, including drug overdoses.
  • The exception is in July, when many of the excess deaths in July were a result of the heat wave, where daily temperatures often exceeded 40°C in both provinces.

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