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Populations trends show regional district growing, city and town declining

Parksville and Qualicum Beach have suffered a net outflow of people since 2011, while the surrounding rural areas have bolstered in population growing at nearly the same rate as the province.

According to B.C. Stats' 2013 population estimates, the population in Parksville (11,852) and Qualicum Beach (8,481) dipped 1.1 and 1.9 per cent, respectively, while the unincorporated surrounding areas grew by 1.7 per cent from 2011 to 2013. The population of B.C. increased as a whole by 1.9 per cent in the last two years.

Natural attrition could be one explanation according to Wern Grundlingh, a population analyst with B.C. Stats.

"That's a subtle way of saying death," said Grundlingh. "People are not moving into this area, or being born, at a rate that replenishes the loss of people dying."

Statistics Canada shows Parksville's median age is 58.2, while Qualicum Beach's median age is 63.9, making the latter notorious for being the oldest community in Canada. Comparatively, electoral areas including Nanoose Bay, Coombs, Errington, French Creek, Deep Bay and Bowser have an average median age of 53.9.

Of the outlying regions, Area F — which includes Coombs and Errington — saw the highest population change from 2006 to 2011 according to Stats Canada.  Area F also has the lowest median age of 46, approximately ten years lower than its neighboring outskirts.

B.C. Stats estimates the average life expectancy on Vancouver Island is 81.8 years.

Parksville Mayor Chris Burger echoed Grundlingh's explanation, saying death rates outnumber birth rates — he also said that attracting more young people to the area is a constant topic of conversation at city hall and the chamber of commerce.

“We (Parksville) are not growing nearly as quickly as we once were,” said Burger. “The city is completely dependent on bringing people here.”

Grundlingh said population estimates are measured by recording hydro connections and medical service plan enrolments.

“Those are the two factors that have historically been the best indicators and most reliable over time,” he said, adding there are various other explanations for population increases and decreases including the cost of living.

“It all comes down to dollars and cents — there’s no question about that,” said RDN chair and longtime French Creek resident Joe Stanhope. “A lot of people are going to electoral areas because taxes are lower.”

Qualicum Beach Mayor Teunis Westbroek said a cultural shift is occurring which may, in part, explain the population changes.

“People are deciding to have families later in life and they tend to have less children,” said Westbroek. “People also find it appealing to live in the country where they still have access to services in town and they are only a short drive away.”

Westbroek said the town is working towards more affordable housing options.

Burger said the city’s urban growth strategy is concerned with orientating people into urban centres but the electoral areas boast developable land and “that’s not something you can easily control.”

Despite statistics that show a declining population, Burger said the city expects to see the population grow at a rate of 1.5 per cent per year until 2030.

Burger said the city is working on maintaining and enhancing their services in an effort to “round out the demographic.”

“It’s pretty obvious we’re a retirement mecca and we need to continue services that are geared towards seniors but the catch-22 is that we need to draw younger people in as well,” said Burger. “One way of retaining young families has been the temporary foreign workers program — that’s something that has really brought families here.”

- Read our editorial on this subject online or on page 10 of today's edition of The NEWS.

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