Okanagan communities have mostly posted an increase in population, but the speed of growth depends on where you live.
Statistics Canada released its 2011 census figures Wednesday which showed Penticton growing in population by three per cent since the last count. All told, 32,877 people lived within city limits last year compared to 31,909 in 2006, making Penticton the 25th largest municipality in B.C. and 133rd in the country.
Penticton Mayor Dan Ashton said the addition of 968 people is a positive step.
“I’m glad to see some population growth because we need it. We do need the expansion,” he said. “I’m glad to see people are still attracted to the City of Penticton.”
The steady increase also translated into growth for Summerland, a municipality that has expressed concern in the past about dwindling population numbers. It saw a 4.2 per cent increase in population for 11,280 residents compared to 10,828 in 2006.
Kelowna, however, is outpacing most other municipalities in terms of growth. It saw a 9.6 per cent increase in the number of people since the last count, for a total population of 117,312.
Oliver is also recording a bit of a boom. More than 4,824 residents reported with the census, an increase of 9.8 per cent.
The Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen saw conservative growth of 1.6 per cent, to 80,742 people up from 79,475 in 2006. Keremeos grew to a population of 1,330, an increase of 3.2 per cent, while Osoyoos posted a two per cent rise in population for 4,845 residents.
One of the only South Okanagan communities seeing a decline was Princeton, which marked a two per cent decrease for a population of 2,724.
Princeton Mayor Fred Thomas said he had hoped to see an opposite trend revealed in the population figures, given the Copper Mountain Mine had been hiring employees during the period of time that the census was undertaken.
“Overall the numbers to me are disappointing,” he said. “As part of a new council in Princeton, we are doing whatever we can to address the causes of that two per cent loss and try to get it reversed. We understand that’s difficult and is going to take some time.”
Thomas said anecdotally he has been waiting for the latest Statistics Canada data after hearing reports that the lack of health-care services to anchor the community have translated into difficult decisions for aging residents.
“As people age here, they’re recognizing they’re not getting proper medical services or care through the local channels, whether it’s the ER, the hospital, specialists or others,” he said, adding people are moving to where the services are located. “That trend seems to be accelerating. I was just talking to some friends in town this morning and they’re aware of more and more people who are migrating to the centres, mostly the tertiary centres, where’s there’s an established IHA hospital.”
British Columbia’s population increased seven per cent to 4.4 million, compared with a 5.3 per cent increase between 2001 and 2006.
Premier Christy Clark said the increase “was great news” and an indicator of how the province is faring.
“The population in British Columbia is growing because we are one of the soundest economies in Canada,” she said, adding that people are not only choosing to retire in B.C. “Younger people are coming here in big numbers because we have looked after our economy for 10 years in our province. We have been balancing budgets, we have been keeping taxes low, we have been encouraging investment and that means people have been coming to our province.”
The big shifts seem to move west, with Saskatchewan posting a 6.7 per cent increase in population following a once per cent decline during the last census. Nationally, the highest rate of growth occurred in Yukon, where the population increased 11.7 per cent in the five years since the last census. Among the provinces, Alberta had the fastest growth rate of 10.8 per cent.
The news is prompting renewed focus on the power of western provinces.
“This means that the west is in a great position now for the first time in Canada and we have a chance to really step up and assert ourselves in this country in all kinds of different ways,” Clark said, adding she is working with premier colleagues Alison Redford in Alberta and Brad Wall in Saskatchewan to capitalize on the position. “We are in the west paying the bills for Canada, and so when we need Canada’s support to make sure our economies are working … I think we are in a very, very good position to go and be able to ask for those resources.”
Between 2006 and 2011, Canada’s population grew by 1,863,791 persons, or 5.9 per cent, to 33.48 million. That rate of increase is the highest among G8 countries. Stats Canada attributes the increase in population to higher fertility and an increase in the number of non-permanent residents and immigrants in the country.
Wednesday’s numbers were among the first of four batches of information Statistics Canada will release in the coming year after analyzing 2011 census data.
The next batch on May 29 will focus on the population by age and gender, and will serve as an interesting comparison to the 2006 census data that showed Penticton was the third-oldest community in Canada.
That release found the South Okanagan was aging faster than the provincial average, with the median age rising to 47.3 from 44.3 in 2001 and 41 in 1996. The median age of RDOS residents was also found to be more than five years older than its Okanagan counterparts.
Ashton said the age and gender breakdown could be valuable information for Penticton in the years ahead, as the municipality tries to attract more young families. “I would definitely like to see that,” he said.
Information on the makeup of families, households, marital status, dwelling types and collectives will be issued by Statistics Canada in September, while language information will be released in October.