The first set of results from the 2016 Census was released by Statistics Canada on Feb. 8, revealing changes in population country-wide, as well as specific provinces and municipalities.
Out of the four municipalities in the Swan Valley region, all but one saw a decline in population. The lone exception was the Town of Swan River, which saw an increase to 4,014 residents from the 2011 numbers of 3,907, amounting to a difference of 107 residents or a 2.7 percent increase.
“I’m glad that the census data shows that the numbers are moving in a positive direction (for Swan River),” said Town of Swan River Mayor Glen McKenzie. “But, we’re (still) not quite back to the population we were at in 2001, which was 4,032.”
McKenzie added that the change from a declining trajectory to an increase in population could be due to a number of factors, such as people moving back into town due to retirement or attraction from local industries.
“Even the small businesses help, those that hire even a few people,” he said. “It all adds up and contributes to the growth of our economy and attracting people to our community.”
The other Valley municipalities have had a moderate to significant downturn since the 2011 census.
The Municipality of Swan Valley West saw 3.2 percent decrease to 2,829 from 2,923. The Municipality of Minitonas-Bowsman saw a nine percent decrease to 1,653 from 1,816. Both of these results use a past comparison that has been adjusted to account for the change in municipal borders due to the 2015 amalgamations.
The biggest change was in the Rural Municipality of Mountain (RMM). The northern section of the municipality saw a 12.2 percent decrease to 559 from 637, while the southern section saw a 10.3 percent decrease to 419 from 467.
“The decreasing trend has actually slowed down compared to previous census data,” said RMM CAO Robin Wiebe, noting that while the northern population shrunk more this year, the number of residents in each half tends to stay more or less consistent with each other.
Since the 2001 census, the accumulated population decline in RMM North has been 41 percent, while RMM South has seen a 35 percent decline.
Due to feedback received directly from census workers, Wiebe added that one factor in the declining numbers could be due to continued resistance to participation from certain municipal residents.
“We appreciate the cooperation of residents who take the time to complete the census, but we are aware of resistance,” she said. “The implications for us are critical as many government funding programs and formulas are population-based.”
The current census data brings the total population of RMM below 1,000 residents and below the criteria that would formerly have forced an amalgamation. However, Wiebe explained that those requirements applied to the results of the 2011 census only, and is not aware of any new legislation that would force amalgamations once again.
“The fact is, our municipality is largely farm based,” said RMM Reeve Marvin Kovachik. “One farmer can do what it used to take eight or 10 farmers to do, therefore reducing those families as well.
“We also have a number of elderly residents that are moving away or passing away as they get older.
“RMM isn’t a bedroom community, and we are really spread out from a lot of employment opportunities,” Kovachik continued. “Industry is less within our area, so those children that are raised in our municipality are growing up and moving away for other job opportunities.”