This past week, our premier was cutting cake in Regina and celebrating, with a crowd of people who appeared to have been carefully selected to illustrate immigration to our province.
The Saskatchewan government announced proudly that Statistics Canada shows our province as having 1.1 million people, a record number. That is good news: more people are seeing the positive things that have long existed here and are opting to join us. On the flip side, however, more people mean more responsibilities, something that has not been clearly addressed.
The number for July 1, 2013 is 1,108,303. This is the figure Premier Brad Wall was celebrating. Although provided by Statistics Canada, this number is an estimate, not a census figure, and doesn’t provide a breakdown of how we got these new Saskatchewanians.
Going back to the previous population estimate from the Saskatchewan Bureau of Statistics, however, and assuming that the pattern of growth is continuing, it would seem the largest portion of the increase is from international immigration, followed by natural population increase (more births than deaths) and then interprovincial migration.
International and interprovincial migration reflects our economic strength and job prospects. We often forget, as we enjoy the prosperity of our province, that other parts of Canada and the world are not as fortunate. Ontario, as one example, has far more trained teachers than job opportunities in that field, so many choose to come to Saskatchewan where rural and northern schools are in need. On the global scale, so many countries have far less in terms of economic wealth and human rights that it is only reasonable our country would be appealing. Even within well-developed countries, lack of jobs will lead people to make the leap to Saskatchewan.
The natural population increase – more babies being born – is a reflection of general growth in population, and of our relatively young population. The old stereotype of Saskatchewan as a place where seniors gather at the Co-op store has changed. The mid-point for age in Saskatchewan, according to the 2011 Census, was 38.2 years, down from 38.7 years in 2006. The growth in the young adult population leads to growth in the number of children, since young adults are often parents. And as the younger population grows, the percentage of the whole group in the senior category goes down. We still have many seniors, but the number of children is even larger.
And where are all these new Saskatchewan residents living? We often hear of the growth in Saskatoon and Regina, along with other cities, but the 2011 Census showed an almost equal percentage of growth in towns. First Nations or reserve populations grew even more: an increase of 15.7 per cent in five years, as compared to 8 per cent in towns and 8.4 per cent in cities.
So what does this mean for our government? Once the celebration is over, and the premier and all the government folks are back to the office, what are the realities that need to be faced?
Above all, we need to accept that with growth come increased demands. It’s similar to a business deciding to expand and add a new location. That business decision should bring in more revenue and more profit, but it will take more resources. You can’t run a second location with the same number of staff, or within the same budget, and expect it to work in a way that will keep customers happy. Having more people in Saskatchewan, similarly, should bring in more tax revenue, but that’s not purely a boost to the bottom line. We need to spend more, too.
We have a growing number of children and young people. That means we need schools and post-secondary opportunities so they can learn. Within those educational institutions, immigration means new demands for specialized programming that comes at an extra cost, beyond simply expanding.
We have growing cities, in need of water treatment, roads and bridges. We also have growing towns and First Nations that need similar infrastructure on a smaller scale.
We all share hospitals, and other health-care facilities, that are currently pushed to the limits. We shouldn’t forget the seniors in need of appropriate care, or vulnerable people who need help.
Unfortunately, amid the cheering over population growth, we haven’t heard any announcements of how the new residents, or those of us who have been here our whole lives, are going to be accommodated. In fact, what is heard more often than not is how healthcare, education and both provincial and municipal governments need to be leaner, less expensive, more efficient.
Careful use of our money is something we should expect from government, but assurance of service, and equitable service, is also something we should expect. Gains from a growing population should not be just about more workers for businesses leading to more profit, or more tax revenue for the government and a bottom line to brag about; a growing population is a big responsibility that must be addressed.
It’s nice to have cake and celebrate. But when planning a party, the host should be sure there’s enough cake so everyone gets a share.
Barb Gustafson is a lifelong resident of Prince Albert and a former managing editor and publisher of the Prince Albert Daily Herald. Email: email@example.com