Citizens for a Livable Cranbrook Society provides grassroots leadership and an inclusive process, with a voice for all community members, to ensure that our community grows and develops in a way that incorporates an environmental ethic, offers a range of housing and transportation choices, encourages a vibrant and cultural life and supports sustainable, meaningful employment and business opportunities.
Friday, January 27, 2012
Demographics Diverge for Cranbrook and Kimberley
Perceptions by Gerry Warner
"Two-thirds of everything."
Back in 1996, that’s how University of Toronto economics professor David Foot explained the power of demographics in a book that became a best seller, a rarity for the “dismal science” known as economics. “Boom, Bust and Echo.” The 313 page book was subtitled “How to Profit from the Coming Demographic Shift” and it sold more than 300,000 copies and remained on the best seller lists for years.
Foot explained how the “Baby Boomers,” the 32 per cent of the Canadian population born after World War II dominated Canada for three generations after the war but were now giving way to Generation X, the boomers’ children or “bust generation” which make up18 per cent of the population and hot on their heels the “Echo Generation,” 23 per cent of the population and now the children of the Digital Age.
Shown on a graph, the baby boomers look like a giant bulge going up a ladder swallowing everything before it. “A snake swallowing a rabbit,” was how Foot put it. But not everything is going their way because as the Baby Boomers now begin to enter their retirement years there are far fewer left behind them to support their relatively lavish life style. Neither Generation X or the Echo Children have the population or the inclination to keep mom, dad, grandma and grandpa in their comfortable cocoons as they go gently in the good night. And if they are unable to get the high-paying jobs and pay the taxes that keep both private and public sector pension plans afloat, where is the money going to come from?
What is needed is more people, of course. People that have jobs, pay taxes, contribute to pension plans and other social goods – and most important of all – people that produce more people, which is where the power of demographics come in. Simply put, if we stop making babies, which many of us have, there won’t be enough new tax payers coming along to support us in our Golden Years. And this is exactly the fate facing most prosperous, First World countries like Canada. At its best, such a scenario could lead to a slow but steady decline in living standards for everyone in the country, especially the elderly who are living longer all the time and are the fastest growing segment of the population. At its worst, it could lead to inter-generational conflict and who would want that?
So with all of this in mind, I was quite surprised and somewhat alarmed the other day when I came across the latest population estimates for B.C. municipalities from BC Stats Infoline, which works closely with Statistics Canada. BC Stats Infoline produces population statistics annually using a Generalized Estimation System (GES) based on health registrations and residential hydro hook-ups to gauge population growth from one year to the next. Municipalities all over the province use the figures for planning purposes in between federal census takings which take place every five years.
There are certainly some surprises in the latest GES figures. For instance, in the year ending June 2011, Kimberley’s population grew while Cranbrook’s declined slightly. In actual figures, Kimberley’s population in the year ending June 2011 increased from 6,646 to 6,883 while Cranbrook’s slipped from 19,117 to 18, 932 over the same period, a one per cent decline. Now who would have thought that? Certainly the population differences aren’t huge with either city but what’s important is the trend. In Kimberley, the trend is up. In Cranbrook it’s down.
We, of course, will have a better idea when the next national census is taken in 2015, but as far as the situation looks for Cranbrook now there are some dark clouds on the horizon. A city not growing is declining. There’s no real other way of putting it. It might be nice to just stay the same as Nelson has for so many years, but Nelson lacks room to grow unless they build up. And Nelson’s stagnation in the long run will lead to higher property taxes as the population ages and inevitably declines. That’s not the fate we want for Cranbrook.
Another disturbing figure in Cranbrook is the rental vacancy rate, which has climbed to 7.5 per cent, the last time it was measured by CMHC in the fall of 2011. This is up from close to zero in the 2008 – 2009 period but still well below the double digit vacancy rates of the decade preceding that. No reason to panic, but some cause for concern. As for reasons for our moribund growth situation, that will have to wait for a future column.