What is behind the census numbers?

February 24, 2012

Even though we all live on a finite planet with finite resources, our economy is fuelled by growth that is ultimately based on population. The latest Canadian census numbers have been released and while British Columbia grew from 2006 to 2011 by 7 percent, the Shuswap region experienced a substantial decline. Except for Salmon Arm, which grew by 9 percent, most of the smaller and rural communities lost people. Just what are the factors behind these numbers and what are the consequences?

Salmon Arm’s growth amounts to an additional 1,478 new people, which is equivalent to approximately 591 families. Interestingly, over approximately the same five-year period the city’s building permit data shows construction costs for dwellings totalled nearly $130-million. This works out to $219,546 per new family, which is likely close to the average construction cost of a new home or condo. Out of the total amount spent on dwelling construction, 14.5 percent was for multi-family dwellings and 8.6 percent was for modular homes. And the data shows a significant drop in building from the high of $40.5-million in 2007 to $15-million in 2010 and just $11-million last year.

Another key factor in understanding the region’s population dynamics is the school enrolment. During the last five years the number of public school students has declined steadily, with 646 fewer in 2011 than in 2006. The significant population increase in Salmon Arm is thus likely attributable to an influx of primarily senior citizens, rather than young families. And the population decline in the rural communities is thus due in part to young families leaving the Shuswap.

It is no wonder that young families are leaving, because, as CSRD Area E Director Rhona Martin explained succinctly, “there is no work.” She went on to describe how the Sicamous, Malakwa and Mara Lake region is suffering because the forest industry no longer employs many workers and the houseboat building industry has collapsed. Martin believes that another cause for the population decline (12.6 percent in Malakwa/Mara Lake and 8.8 percent in Sicamous) is that when young people graduate they usually move away to attend post-secondary school or to where they can find work.  As well, recent news articles indicate that the market for recreation condos is oversaturated. It now seems clear that all the new condo developments have provided minimal long-term benefits for the local economy.

In Malakwa, another sign of the changing demographics is the status of the elementary school, which at one time had over 150 students, the largest number in the district. It was closed last year when its enrolment dropped to just 40, but the parents worked to keep it open for just 17 students through the Self-Design program. As well, the high school in Sicamous which once had an enrolment of over 400 students is now down to just 150. Exacerbating the problem is the new policy that allows parents to send their children to other schools and some Sicamous students attend school in Salmon Arm.

According to the census numbers, the North Shuswap experienced the largest decline in population, where it dropped 13.3 percent, a loss of 363 people. The area is now beset by shuttered businesses and failed developments.

Former Area F CSRD director and long–time resident Denis Delisle is not surprised at the news and blames the decline in part on the recession, which has dramatically slowed down the North Shuswap’s building boom. Many of the area newcomers had moved to the area to work in construction that had been focused on new recreational developments. Now, according to Denis, family breadwinners are either having to commute to work in the oil patch or families have had to leave.

As well, many aging North Shuswap seniors find it difficult to live in a community with inadequate nearby health care. Delisle is now helping the newly re-established Scotch Creek Health Clinic to remain open and viable.

The North Shuswap, according to Delisle, has typically been a cyclical place for employment. Yet, when the forest industry employed many more workers than it does now and the population was much lower, the school population was as large or larger.

Interestingly, while there has been a steady population decline in rural communities, the Shuswap First Nation communities have experienced a significant population increase of nearly 11 percent. It appears that as the standard of living and the quality of life continues to improve for local bands, so does their population growth.

Even though many experts claim the economy is recovering, there seems to be no end in sight for the economic factors behind our declining population. Unless new value-added industries or new technology businesses move to the Shuswap it is unlikely that we can expect any further influx of young families or see our young people remain. Instead, there should be a greater realization that the major economic driver for the Shuswap comes from the retiring boomer generation.

Census results for the Shuswap Watershed region:

(more info at www12.statcan.gc.ca/census-recensement/2011/dp-pd/prof/search-recherche/lst/page.cfm?Lang=E&GeoCode=59&TABID=1&G=1&Geo1=PR&Code1=10&Geo2=0&Code2=0 )

Overall,  the CSRD population grew by .7 percent from 2005 to 2011 (note that the overall BC population grew 7 percent).  But that growth largely occurred in Salmon Arm, as there was substantial population reductions in the rural areas.  Here are the specifics:

Salmon Arm – plus 9.1 percent (16205 to 17683)
Chase – plus 3.6 percent (2409 to 2495)
Enderby plus 3.7 percent (2828 to 2932)
Sicamous minus 8.8 percent (2676 to 2441)


Area C – minus .4 percent (7695 – 7662),  (Blind Bay, Sunnybrae, Tappen)
Area D – plus 3.8 percent (3899 – 4047),  (Falkland, Salmon River, Deep Creek)
Area E – minus 12.6 percent (1528 – 1335),  (Malakwa, Mara Lake)
Area F – minus 13.3 percent (2731 – 2368),  (North Shuswap)

RDNO (North Okanagan)

Area F – minus 3.7 percent (4,091 – 3938),  ( S. Mara Lake, and Shuswap River area including most of Mabel Lake)
Area D – plus .4 percent (2,837 – 2,848), Lumby and N. Okg. forest land)
Area E – plus .5 percent (934 – 939), (Cherryville, and forest land)

Secwepemc Bands Census numbers:

Neskonlith (east of Chase)
plus 15 percent, 206 to 237

Sahhaltkum 4 (Adams Lake, north of chase)
plus 3.2 percent, 310 to 320

Quaaout 1 (Little Shuswap Lake)
plus 25.8 percent, 186 to 234

Enderby 2 (Splatsin – formerly Spallumcheen)
plus 10.5 percent, 353 to 390

Switsemalph (Adams Lake reserve lands near Salmon Arm)
minus .8 percent 130 to 129

Switsemalph 3 (Neskonlith reserve lands near Salmon Arm)
plus 42.9 percent , 63 to 90

For Shuswap school enrollment data, see education section in: http://www.saeds.ca/community.php?p=commprof

For Salmon Arm building permit data, see: salmonarm.civicweb.net/Documents/DocumentList.aspx?ID=1719

Further analysis:

What can be gleaned from this data? Well, specifics are not yet available and when the data is online, there will not be many details as the Census information was cut by the federal government. Here in the North Shuswap, environmentalists have been accused of threatening the economy and lowering the population by our opposition to irresponsible growth. Yet the truth is that growth here and in Sicamous in terms of new condos and other recreational properties has been explosive over the last 6 years. Yet the result has been a sharp reduction in population. This is because recreational development does not result in full-time employment and a year-round population. Instead, the result has been a sharp reduction in population where recreational growth has been the greatest. What is to blame for this trend? Obviously the economy has not been conducive to promote growth in rural areas where full time jobs are scarce. The forestry economy has collapsed, in part because of low demand and low prices for lumber. But another major factor is technology, as more timber and lumber is now produced with fewer jobs. Witness the Adams Lake Sawmill, where half the work crew now produces nearly double the lumber output, after the modernization.

Another trend appears to be that seniors are moving to communities like Salmon Arm, rather than to rural and semi-rural areas, as there are more services available in these communities. We know this is the case, as the school population has been steadily declining in Salmon Arm, even though the population has increased significantly.  Can we expect any changes to these trends? Hardly, despite approvals of new housing developments. Families are simply not moving into rural areas where there is no work and where the lack of high-speed internet restricts home-based businesses. More seniors are likely to move to the communities as other retirement areas such as Kelowna are becoming overcrowded and thus less desirable. Chase is becoming more of a bedroom community for Kamloops, in part because of the highway improvements. As is Enderby becoming more of a bedroom community for Vernon. And until the economy improves and/or we see new industries set up, we cannot expect an increase in the number of new families anywhere in the Shuswap. And there is no economic data that supports the notion that adding more big box stores (i.e. the dumb centre) would help significantly increase the population!



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