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Editorial

Playing the numbers

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It’s numbers season. The federal and provincial governments have introduced budgets full of them this month, while the Resort Municipality of Whistler released its proposed spending plan this week.

Finance ministers are also watching the numbers produced by pollsters. National polls show no party has enough support to form a majority government at the moment, which seems to have been the impetus for the Conservative budget.

Skier visits, hotel room nights, tax breaks and RSPs are other numbers that come to mind in the spring, but there’s another group of figures that is drawing attention this year, the 2006 census.

Last week Statistics Canada released the first numbers, the most general information, from last year’s census. And at first glance this is about as helpful as an economist telling you after two consecutive quarters of negative economic growth that you’re in a recession. The figures reaffirm what we already knew, or at least suspected.

The census tells us that Canada is growing, to more than 31 million people in 2006, but nearly half the population, 13.9 million people, live in the country’s three largest urban areas: Montreal, Vancouver and Toronto. And the growth rate of these three areas, 7.3 per cent, or 950,000 people, was above the national average. International immigration was responsible for most of that growth.

Whistler’s population, according to last year’s census, increased 4 per cent from 2001; from 8,896 souls to 9,248. That’s below the provincial increase, of 5.3 per cent, which was below the national increase of 5.4 per cent. Our population density per square kilometre is officially 57.2, which makes Whistler look positively urban compared to the provincial density of 4.4 and the national density of 3.5 people per square kilometre. Vancouver’s density is 5,039.

While British Columbia is growing faster than it was — 5.3 per cent between 2001 and 2006 compared to 4.9 per cent between 1996 and 2001 — all that growth occurred in Greater Vancouver, Greater Victoria, the Okanagan and a select few other areas. Most of the rest of the province, “the heartland”, shrunk in population. And as was the case nationally, the principal factor in B.C.’s growth, according to the census, was international immigration. B.C. has one of the lowest fertility rates in the country (1.4 children per woman since 2001).

Where those immigrants are coming from will be part of a future census release.

Inter-provincial migration also helped boost B.C.’s population, to more than 4 million for the first time.

So, B.C.’s population is growing at just slightly under the national average, with Ontario (6.6 per cent) and Alberta (10.6 per cent) primarily responsible for keeping the national average as high as it is. And most of those new people are going to the Lower Mainland, southern Vancouver Island and the Okanagan. What does that mean for B.C.’s “booming” mountain resort business?

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