For all the good news about Saskatchewan’s population booming past 1.1 million people, let us hope Premier Brad Wall isn’t forgetting about places like Davin.
Or at the very least, let us hope his Saskatchewan Party government’s growth plan can somehow be extended beyond the city limits of Regina and Saskatoon and into those smaller rural Saskatchewan communities that remain the backbone of the province.
For those of you who might have missed the Davin story, the 50-odd residents of the Saskatchewan hamlet 40 kilometres southwest of Regina were surprised to wake up to discover that Statistics Canada had declared their community as a “ghost town” with zero population.
“Besides being insulting, this census mistake carries serious consequences for both the Hamlet of Davin and the Rural Municipality of Lajord,” said Regina Wascana MP Ralph Goodale who represents the riding.
Goodale and others blamed it on the 2011 voluntary National Household Survey that replaced the mandatory long-form census. It resulted in only a 68-per-cent response, which was well below the 94-per-cent-response rate of the traditional survey.
Davin’s residents were considerably better natured about it, chalking it up to a computer glitch.
In reality, however, it’s part of a decades-long trend for smaller Saskatchewan communities — one that’s not getting much better even with the province’s recent massive population boom.
According to the latest Statistics Canada numbers (based on up-to-date health card information rather than the less-than-accurate 2011 Census), Saskatchewan’s population was 1,108,303 as of July 1, 2013. That’s an increase of 106,255 since July 1, 2007.
It also represents an increase of 20,757 from the previous year and a 6,895 increase from the previous three months — the largest quarterly increase in any quarter since Statistics Canada has been keeping such estimates.
Given that the province’s population boom has neatly coincided with the election of the Saskatchewan Party in November 2007 and that the Sask. Party set growing the province by 100,000 people in 10 years as its goal, it’s something that Wall just can’t stop talking about.
“Saskatchewan is the place to be in Canada right now,” Wall said in a news release.
“We have the strongest job growth and lowest unemployment in Canada, and we have a great quality of life in this province. It’s a great place to find a job or start a business. It’s a great place to live and raise a family. It’s no wonder our population is growing.”
And it is rather remarkable when you consider Saskatchewan took 77 years to grow from 900,000 to 1,000,000.
But what’s sometimes been lost is how inequitable this growth has been.
The lion’s share of Saskatchewan growth has been in the larger urban centres of Regina and Saskatoon that seem to now be attracting large numbers of immigrants. In fact, the Conference Board of Canada recently crowned Saskatoon and Regina as the two fastest growing communities in Canada.
Again, there is absolutely nothing wrong with this. The province’s motto, after all, is “from many people, strengths. Nor can government realistically do much about it because people move to where they have more opportunity. And many smaller communities have little opportunity to offer.
Settled on rail lines every nine miles to serve local agricultural needs in the days in the when traveling more than 30 miles a day was impossible, many are just no longer economically feasible.
But in all the hype over the great Saskatchewan population boom, there has been little discussion about the inequity of most of growth happening in Regina and Saskatoon and little of it happening elsewhere.
Maybe Wall can’t do much for places like Davin.
But maybe we need to focus some attention on making sure communities outside Regina and Saskatoon have as much opportunity to grow as possible.
Murray Mandryk has been covering provincial politics for over 22 years.