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Alberta rural communities populations on the decline

Barrhead CAOs say federal census numbers will have little impact on current year’s budget
LeBlanc April 27 copy
Town of Barrhead chief administrative officer Edward LeBlanc does not believe the 2021 census that shows a decrease in population for the municipality will have much of an impact on this year's final budget.

BARRHEAD – Falling population numbers reported in the 2021 Canadian census should have little impact on the future budget planning for the Barrhead municipalities.  

However, both town and county chief administrative officers (CAO) say the potential effects are still largely undetermined.  

In a Great West Media interview late last month, University of Alberta professor and director of the School of Urban and Regional Planning Sandeep Agrawal said there has been a trend in the province, for the last several years, where people are moving to big city centres at the detriment of smaller rural communities.  

“The census tells a tale of two Albertas. You essentially have two phenomena occurring in the province,” he said. “You have high-growth communities coupled with urbanization and the shrinkage of population happening in many of the rural counties. And these two phenomena are working at the same time … Not only [are] the two cities growing, but also the bedroom communities around them and at the expense of the rural counties.”  

The population data, released in early February, shows the provincial population increased by nearly 200,000 people, going to 4.26 million from 4.07 million in 2016. The vast majority of those who moved to the  

province chose urban areas.  

Calgary, Edmonton and Red Deer account for more than half of the province's population at roughly 58 per cent with Calgary's population jumping 5.5 per cent from the last census, rising from 1,239,220 to 1,306,784, while Edmonton's population increased by 8.3 per cent, from 933,088 to 1,010,899.  

Bedroom communities such as Leduc, Cochrane, Fort Saskatchewan and Morinville also saw notable increases. Leduc County's population increased by 9.4 per cent; the City of Leduc went up 13.7 per cent; Cochrane 24.4 per cent; and then Fort Saskatchewan and Morinville with a more modest 5.5 per cent growth.  

About 650,000 people — or 15 per cent of the population — live in rural Alberta. Data shows the vast majority of communities that saw dips in population were rural.  

In the Town and Country readership area, the most notable decrease was in Athabasca County which saw a drop of 11.6 per cent. The Town of Athabasca's population dropped 6.9 per cent, and Boyle saw a 2.7 per cent reduction.  

The Westlock area fared better with the population dropping only 0.5 per cent in the county, while the town and Clyde dropped 3.5 per cent.  

The County of Barrhead's population dropped by 6.5 per cent going from 6,288 to 5,877 while the town dropped 5.7 per cent going from 4,579 to 4,320. Woodlands County dropped 3.9 per cent going from 4,744 to 4,558.  

As for the potential budgetary consequences of such a reduction, Town  

of Barrhead CAO Edward LeBlanc did not believe it would have much of an impact, especially for the 2022 budget.  

"Some of the senior government grants may still have a minor population component to their calculations, so we may see some slight change to our grant allocations, but I suspect it would be minimal," he said. "As for the 2022 and 2023 proposed (Municipal Sustainability Initiative) allocations, we already have this information, so no changes on that particular front."  

County manager Debbie Oyarzun suspects LeBlanc is correct, but currently, administration is working on determining which data sets are being used for the various government grants, saying it is not a given that the latest census numbers will be used in determining funding allocations, at least not right away.  

"Even if we do lose some grant funding, the flip side is some of the contributions we have to make, such as for policing, could go down," she said, adding the same could apply to provincial requisition payments, such as the one for education. "Right now, until we know what data sets drive grants and requisitions, we are uncertain what the overall impact will be on the budget."  

Having said that, Oyarzun believes any impact, if any, the new census population numbers may have will not impact this year's budget.  

"Everything's already locked in. It would be for 2023, but hopefully, we will have everything answered by then."  

  • with files from Jennifer Henderson  

Barry Kerton

About the Author: Barry Kerton

Barry Kerton is the managing editor of the Barrhead Leader, joining the paper in 2014. He covers news, municipal politics and sports.
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