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EDITORIAL: Obvious conclusions

Nigel Burns, director of economics, statistics and federal fiscal relations for the province, points to the 2006 mark on a graph illustrating P.E.I.’s recent population growth. The province had a population of about 135,851 in 2006 according to Statistics Canada. Burns said the province is now at about 152,000 residents, with a goal of increasing to 160,000 by 2022.  ©THE GUARDIAN/Mitch MacDonald
Nigel Burns, director of economics, statistics and federal fiscal relations for the province, points to the 2006 mark on a graph illustrating P.E.I.’s recent population growth. The province had a population of about 135,851 in 2006 according to Statistics Canada. Burns said the province is now at about 152,000 residents, with a goal of increasing to 160,000 by 2022. ©THE GUARDIAN/Mitch MacDonald - Mitch MacDonald

In Kings County, there are just 17,342 residents, more than four times fewer than Queens.

There is lots of good news in the one-year update on P.E.I.’s Population Action Plan. Positive data also abounds in the recent 44th Annual Statistical Review, which offers a snapshot of the Island’s population and economy. And the latest Statistics Canada numbers on our population are also very encouraging. But there is some bad news, especially if one lives in Kings County.

The review confirms the economy is doing well and surpassing expectations. But the scope of U.S. tariffs has yet to be felt and there will likely be negative impacts on P.E.I. over the coming months without a resolution; or if NAFTA negotiations remain stalled.

Some of our most impressive performances continue in the area of population growth. Last September, Stats Canada placed P.E.I.’s population at a record 152,021 – a 1.7 per cent growth rate, the second highest in Canada. Last month, the Island government provided a one-year update on its action plan which placed the number of Islanders at 153,116. The five-year plan focuses on recruiting, retaining and repatriating Islanders, with an emphasis on growing our rural population.

Population gains are significant, with the most success in Queens County – specifically in the capital region of Charlottetown, Stratford and Cornwall. These urban areas are booming even though the plan’s key support efforts are targeting rural population growth.

Census figures show the population of Queens County grew by 2,528 or 3 per cent. Prince County’s population saw a modest growth of 67 people in 2017, while Kings County’s population shrank by 43 people. Charlottetown’s population grew by 4 per cent between 2011 and 2016, Stratford shot up by 13 per cent and Cornwall by 3.6 per cent.

Much of the Island’s population growth came from new immigrants while out-migration continues at disturbingly high levels. International migration grew by 12.7 per cent in 2017, or 2,909 migrants. This partly explains the growth in urban areas which are often more attractive for immigrants.

Prince County’s population is estimated at 44,637, while Queens County is home to 90,042 residents - more than double the numbers in Prince. In Kings County, there are just 17,342 residents, more than four times fewer than Queens. There is some good news for Kings - the county is largely maintaining its numbers, with little change over the past three years. It could have been worse.

The shifting demographics are not lost on government which is facing increased pressure from rural MLAs demanding more supports for their country districts. In addition to action plan’s priorities, the April budget provides $2.5 million to help rural communities - targeting newcomers and supports for population retention rates. It’s much too soon to draw conclusions on successes or failures, but the numbers in Kings, and to a slightly lesser extent, West Prince, are very concerning and suggest that more help will be needed.

The ramifications are clear. Rural P.E.I. worries about schools closing, fewer electoral districts, a decline in hospital services and less influence on provincial decision-making. Population numbers point out painfully obvious conclusions.

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