More peo­ple please

Cape Breton Post - - EDITORIAL -

An­other de­cline in Cape Bre­ton’s pop­u­la­tion was con­firmed by fig­ures re­leased by Statis­tics Canada this week. The 2016 cen­sus re­ports that 132,010 peo­ple live this side of the Canso Cause­way, ap­prox­i­mately 75 per cent of whom live in the Cape Bre­ton Re­gional Mu­nic­i­pal­ity.

The over­all fig­ure rep­re­sents a 2.9 per cent dip from the 2011 cen­sus when the is­land’s pop­u­la­tion stood at 135,974.

Pre­vi­ous cen­sus fig­ures re­leased dur­ing the past two decades re­veal the fol­low­ing: 2006 – 142,298 2001 – 145,525 1996 – 158,260 But, wait, it gets worse if one dives a lit­tle deeper. Then you’ll dis­cover the pop­u­la­tion of CBRM (or Cape Bre­ton County) has been de­clin­ing ev­ery decade since reach­ing an all-time high of 131,507 in 1961. Its cur­rent fig­ure of 98,722 is the low­est since the 1930s.

On a per cap­i­tal ba­sis this time around, the largest pop­u­la­tion de­cline in the past five years in Cape Bre­ton oc­curred in Rich­mond County (down 429 to 8,964 – nearly 4.6 per cent). This was fol­lowed by In­ver­ness County (down 712 to 17,235 – four per cent). Victoria County fell by 136 to 7,089 (1.9 per cent).

Not that any of this comes as a sur­prise to is­land res­i­dents. They’ve en­dured the clo­sures of steel plant sand coalmines over the years. They’ve seen the re­sult­ing out­mi­gra­tion and school clo­sures. They can read the obituaries.

The stag­na­tion can be a bit de­mor­al­iz­ing at times. Com­mu­ni­ties get older. New­com­ers are a rar­ity. Will the pop­u­la­tion de­cline ever end?

Yet, per­haps, this lat­est cen­sus of­fers a few pos­i­tives. Or at least fewer neg­a­tives.

Does the 2.9 per cent de­cline, for in­stance, rep­re­sent a tiny step to­wards pop­u­la­tion sta­bil­ity? Af­ter all, the pop­u­la­tion slide dur­ing this five-year cy­cle was 3,964, down con­sid­er­ably from the 6,324 peo­ple who left the re­gion be­tween 2006 and 2011. And it’s a far cry from the ex­o­dus of 12,735 Cape Bre­ton­ers to points off-is­land be­tween 1996 and 2001.

Maybe it’s a spinoff of the is­land’s econ­omy, through ne­ces­sity, di­ver­si­fy­ing in re­cent years. CBRM, es­pe­cially, is no longer a one or two-in­dus­try trick pony. Small busi­nesses are pop­ping up ev­ery­where, though, in some cases, dis­ap­pear­ing al­most as quickly.

Tourism op­por­tu­ni­ties abound. Har­bour de­vel­op­ment holds some prom­ise. In­creased im­mi­gra­tion of­fers hope.

And, let’s face it, many Cape Bre­ton­ers don’t re­ally want to leave th­ese shores. Just ask one. And if they do there’s usu­ally a de­sire to re­turn some day.

In ad­di­tion, we note cen­sus fig­ures show­ing a mod­est pop­u­la­tion in­crease of Cape Bre­ton’s five Mi’kmaq com­mu­ni­ties, from 6,020 to 6,311. There is enor­mous po­ten­tial here, es­pe­cially when it comes to help­ing fill lo­cal labour short­ages, and their con­tin­ued growth and suc­cesses should be cel­e­brated.

Mean­while, we agree with Doug Lion­ais, an as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor at Cape Bre­ton Univer­sity’s Shan­non School of Busi­ness, who told the Post: “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.”

Sounds like a road worth trav­el­ling.

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