Cape Breton population continues to decline
New census figures reveal that Canada surpasses 35-million mark
The number of people living on Cape Breton Island continued its decline over the past five years, according to 2016 census figures released today by Statistics Canada.
The data, compiled on May 10 of last year, lists the island’s population at 132,010, down from the 2011 census that counted 135,974 people living on this side of the Canso Causeway,
On the more heavily populated east side of the island, the population of Cape Breton Regional Municipality is reported to be 98,722, down 2.9 per cent from the previous census that recorded 101,619 people in the CBRM. Doug Lionais, an associate professor at Cape Breton University’s Shannon School of Business, said the area’s declin- ing population is, in large part, attributable to the loss of key industries over the past couple of generations and the lure of work in Western Canada. And, he said there is no quick fix to the problem of Cape Breton’s shrinking populace.
“The forces that lead to this sort of population decline are big forces and they are not easily turned around,” said Lionais, who has a special interest in business development in depleted communities.
“To a large extent, we’re still dealing with the death of our industries, so in some ways it is unreasonable to expect that we should have turned this around already.”
And he suggested that while CBRM’s ideal population may turn out to be less than it is now, the area is a long way from disappearing off the map.
“The CBRM is the second largest community in Nova Scotia and it’s not as if we are a single industry town that’s just going to disappear with the last to leave turning out the lights,” said Lionais. “There’s still lots left here and it’s simply a question of where we’re going to land and what direction are we going to take.”
CBRM Mayor Cecil Clarke agreed that there’s still plenty to be optimistic about in terms of the area’s future. But he said it’s going to take the collective hard work and co-operation of government, business and the communities.
“Reaching a point of population stability with stronger prosperity is not out of our reach,” said Clarke, adding that the 2014 Ivany Report stressed the importance of the CBRM’s “ocean advantage” and of keeping young people in the area.
“We have a world-class harbour and tourism, our creative industries and natural resources are finding new and innovative ways to reach global markets, and the next generation’s entrepreneurship is bring new ideas to life.”
A notable exception to the area’s declining population is Cape Breton’s Mi’kmaq communities. Figures show that all five communities now have more people than they did in the 2011 census. Combined, the number of island Mi’kmaw increased from 6,020 to 6,311. The largest First Nations community, Eskasoni, saw its population increase from 3,309 to 3,422.
Nationally, the populace continued its western migration as Canada’s population reached 35,151,728, a five per cent increase from 2011. Major urban areas such as Calgary (1,392,609) and Edmonton (1,321,426) continued to lead the nation in population growth, as the former surpassed Ottawa-Gatineau to become the fourth largest population centre in the country. Metropolitan Toronto has Canada’s largest population at 5,928,040.
Nova Scotia experienced a very slight increase (0.2 per cent) going from 921,727 in 2011 to 923,598 in 2016. Alberta had the highest growth rate (11.6 per cent) as the Wild Rose province exceeded four million people for the first time. Conversely, New Brunswick was the only province to have a net loss as its population fell from 751,171 to 747,101 over the past five years.