Sooke’s population has officially crossed the 15,000 mark, bringing the potential to increase financial burdens on the district.
Statistics Canada released the results of the 2021 census on Wednesday, showing that Sooke’s population now number 15,086, up 16 percent from 13,001 in the 2016 census.
Mayor Maja Tait said now that the community had crossed the 15,000-resident threshold, the district will be required to pay for 90 per cent of its policing costs with the RCMP instead of the 70 per cent of costs it is currently paying.
“We have been preparing for this. We know from statistical data that we are growing, and Sooke has always been poised for this growth,” said Tait. “What this means for us is that we need to continue to ensure good service delivery for our residents.”
The District of Sooke has already accounted for the increased policing costs in its approved five-year financial plan, and the increased tax base which comes with an increased population will help compensate.
Overall, Tait said the population growth shown in the census data is in line with what was expected. The district has been planning for the new, expanded library set to open this spring and ongoing infrastructure improvements throughout the community.
But as those upgrades take time, Tait said residents might feel the impacts of an increased population, such as increased traffic in the meantime.
“I’m not sure if it is good or bad. It’s just about managing what we knew was coming,” she said. “It is the path the community has been set on since incorporation. If you sit there and debate whether it is good or bad, we will never deal with what is in front of us. This is what is occurring, so let’s talk about it and address it.”
For Coun. Al Beddows, however, the increased population in Sooke is cause for concern, primarily because of its impact on policing costs.
”Overall, it’s a bad thing for us because we are going to have to pick up a larger share of the policing costs, which is very difficult in these difficult times,” said Beddows. “There are no ifs, ands or buts. There is going to have to be a tax increase somewhere down the line to offset it.”
The latest census data also shows Sooke generally saw a more significant percentage increase in population than other regions. For example, the Victoria census metropolitan area saw a population increase of eight per cent between 2016 and 2021, now sitting at 397,237.
Of the Greater Victoria municipalities, only Langford grew faster than Sooke, with its population growing 31.8 per cent to 46,584 between 2016 and 2021. Colwood came in third, growing by 12.5 per cent to 18,961.
B.C. as a whole saw its population grow by 7.6 per cent to reach 5,000,879, while the national population grew by 5.2 per cent to 36,991,981.