More people please
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.