Capital Regional District board chair Colin Plant isn’t surprised by the eight per cent growth in Greater Victoria’s population over the past five years, according to the new census data.
Even with the growth seen between 2016 and 2021 on the Saanich Peninsula – about 2,200 residents were added between Central Saanich, Sidney and North Saanich – he doesn’t foresee significant changes other than densification in areas where Peninsula councils believe it to be appropriate, near services and transportation corridors.
Plant told Black Press Media the intent of the Regional Growth Strategy calls for the Peninsula to remain an agricultural environment, with housing in strategic locations that will not jeopardize the role of farming. “That is where you see community advocates having concerns when you are potentially cutting in that opportunity for agriculture or the return to agriculture,” he said.
Noting that some densification is necessary on the Peninsula, he sees Sidney as an example of that, as well as Saanichton and Brentwood Bay.
From a regional perspective, the significant growth on the West Shore – Langford grew 31 per between 2016 and 2021 – was the vision laid out in the growth strategy, Plant said. “In many ways, the census data is reflecting policy decisions made in the late 1990s, because the development is happening out on the western communities.”
Population figures are the first of several key data sets emerging from the 2021 census. The CRD plans to review the data with an eye on potential changes to its system of governance and broader planning implications.
“As new data becomes available, we will need to reflect, respond and adjust,” said Plant. He noted that the census may actually understate growth in municipalities such as his home of Saanich, by failing to capture secondary suite residents.
For Plant, the new figures underscore the need for more transportation infrastructure.
“As we see the western communities continue to grow, there will be an emphasis on improving transportation options to the western communities, whether it is rapid bus, reconsideration of the E&N or the ferry (between Colwood and Victoria), which is a long-term priority for the CRD,” he said.
While the CRD might wish for a quicker pace in terms of transportation investments by the province, it is cognizant of the effects of COVID and demands for transportation dollars elsewhere in B.C. This said, the capital region accounts for about 10 per cent of the province’s population, he added.
“We haven’t seen the investment yet, but I remain optimistic that we will.”
Raw population figures represent only one regional planning consideration, demographics also matter, Plant said. Not only are new arrivals to the region likely older adults, he said, the CRD has a relatively low birth rate.
“My fear is that over the long term, we don’t see young families here finding a place to grow a family and establish a career,” he said. “That is something I will be looking for and the CRD as a whole will have to be aware of. We don’t want to become a community of only retirees who have been able to cash in their savings or sell a property back east.” Such an influx of mostly older residents would make Greater Victoria “a community that is not reflective of a healthy society having young and old and middle-aged (residents).”
It comes down to housing, Plant said.
“We are doing a good job to provide housing for the people who are homeless,” he said. “We are trying to build as many units as we can at the CRD and we have some that are below-market. But the missing middle is the group that I am concerned about, and the missing middle is priced out of being able to buy a home. A million dollars for somebody who is maybe making $25 an hour is not attainable.”
Relying exclusively on market housing will not be enough, he said.
“We may need to come to the realization that housing for the middle class and those who are aspiring to move into the middle class will require investments there,” he said.
Not having a roof over your head is a visible crisis, but the crisis of living in sub-standard housing for years because of rising housing costs also needs to addressed, Plant added.
Ultimately, he said, it is a question of finding a balance between the specific needs of younger and older demographics in the region.
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