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Train of demographic change pulled out of the station

['WS-xx-letter to the editor']
['WS-xx-letter to the editor']

“The population of Newfoundland and Labrador is the oldest in the country, and it is aging quickly.”

That’s a direct quote from Vital Signs 2016, published as a collaboration between the Community Foundation of NL and Memorial University’s Harris Centre.

If the government is planning for the future, what vital areas need to be addressed while we are the oldest population in Canada? Here in Corner Brook, what will the face of our community look like in the years to come, given we are presently part of this aging body of people?

Let’s gaze into the future a little and look 10 years out. Some background first: at the annual Municipalities NL conference last fall, MUN professor Keith Storey delivered demographic trends.

Storey divided the province into 20 regions and he predicts Corner Brook and the surrounding area will see a decline of 3,000 people in the next decade. Imagine losing, on average, 300 people a year in this area for the next 10 years. A low birth rate, combined with the death rate and out-migration will lead to a significant drop in our population. Beyond his 10-year projection, Storey also notes our population will then further decline to 27,000 people in this area by 2036.

In 2011, the population was 33,644 for our region. That’s an overall decline by 2036 from 2011 of 6,644 people or 19.75 per cent.

Here’s more interesting statistics to keep in mind as we gaze out 10 years: in 1971 in this province’s school enrolment peaked at 162,818. The population of the province then was 530,854. In 2015 the population was 527,756 (virtually unchanged), but in K-12 there were 66,800 students enrolled in our schools.

That is 96,018 fewer students than 46 years ago. That is a drop of 58.97 per cent in enrolment. In 1971, kids in school represented 30.85 per cent of the population. Today, kids in school represent 12.66 per cent of the population.

So, with that background, let’s imagine you are a business owner and you are looking to the future. If you are a sporting goods store selling baseball gloves, soccer cleats and hockey gear, how much of your total revenue will be derived from children 10 and under in the decade to come compared to today?

How many kids will be kicking soccer balls at the Wellington Street complex or lacing up skates at the civic centre? How many kids will be fielding ground balls at Jubilee Field?

For city planners, any users of recreational facilities won’t see these young kids as a primary user. In 10 years, how many kids in that age bracket will be seeking pool time? How many young skiers will be carving through powder at Marble Mountain? How much ski equipment for this age group will that sporting goods store carry to help with overall sales?

If you are in the fast-food business, or selling furniture and appliances, or selling vehicles from one of the current nine dealerships in the city, you will hardly notice a loss of 300 people in this area in a year. You will however, most certainly notice a drop in population of 3,000 in 10 years.

If there are 3,000 fewer people at that time, that’s less people who need housing and who will make the associated purchases, less numbers who will dine out and less people who will need transportation.

Assuming an average of four people per household, that is 750 fewer family units to market your business towards. Do you ignore those numbers in terms of business planning and community planning?

Of course, Storey does not have a crystal ball and projections are not etched in stone. But a potential drop in population of thousands of people (with fewer children) will most certainly change the face of our community.

My opening sentence referenced the fact that we are presently the oldest province by population in Canada.

There seems to be little evidence on the horizon to suggest that this won’t carry forward, and the dramatic decrease in school enrolment over the past nearly five decades is supporting data to buttress that claim.

The train of demographic change in this region pulled out of the station long ago. As it chugs along down the line, the picture is now starting to take shape of what the future will hold.

Bern Kenny

Corner Brook

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