Population decline hasn't been as bad as you might think



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Once upon a time, during the economic boom, those who were “in the know” in Estevan and other southeast communities had as much use for the federal census as they had for those who called for an immediate end to coal-fired power.

And who could blame them? Despite an obvious surge in population, and a rental vacancy rate comparable to legal blood alcohol content, the census pegged Estevan’s population at 10,000-11,000 people.

The words we used to describe the census of 2011 can’t be printed in this paper. There was talk of the city conducting its own census, but instead they turned to the Covered Population Report, an annual document prepared by eHealth Saskatchewan that indicates the number of Saskatchewan health card holders in a community.

It was released on an annual basis, as opposed to once every five years like the census. And it was seemingly more likely to include transient workers, particularly those in town for medium and long-term work.

And so each year, when the report was released, it would be brought forward by the city.

Sure there were faults. The most notable one is the number of residents was skewered in favour of urban municipalities. The rural municipality populations in the Covered Population Report was usually half of what it was in the census. 

But if you were to take the combined population of the urban and rural municipality from the Covered Population Report, it was likely a more accurate indication of the population than if you took the combined populations of the city and the RM from the census.

This year’s Covered Population Report was posted by eHealth Saskatchewan recently to relatively little fanfare from the city. No press release. No report at a city council meeting. The mayor did give comments to the Mercury, though.

Nobody should be surprised that Estevan’s population has been sliding. It was down to 12,612 in 2018, a drop of about 600 from the 13,222 reported the year before, and 13,307 in 2016. But it might be surprising that Estevan’s population hasn’t dropped by more people, considering the struggles of the oil industry of the past few years, and some of the other challenges facing the city that have created a lot of uncertainty.

And nobody should be surprised that the rural municipality of Estevan has seen an increase in population. The report says the RM’s population is just shy of 700 at 699; we think it’s likely double that number. (Back to exhibit A about the unreliable numbers for RMs).

It was at 679 in 2017 and 658 in 2016.

There’s a growing desire to embrace the “rural lifestyle” for many in society. We’re not talking about have a large, mixed farming operation that has lots of land, equipment and livestock.

We’re talking about people owning acreages that are relatively close to the city, but far enough away to offer freedoms you can’t enjoy within city limits.

If you take the combined population of the city and the RM in this report (13,311), then we think that would be pretty accurate, and more accurate than the 12,628 from the census. 

We also shouldn’t be surprised that some rural southeast communities have seen their population go up, while others have gone down, even though we have all been affected by the oil price crash.

The population drop could been worse. But with the impact of the eventual closure of Units 4 and 5 at the Boundary Dam Power Station, it seems like the worst could be yet to come.


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