New census figures show Greater Victoria’s population grew eight per cent between 2016 and 2021, to 397,237.
Within that overall growth in the Victoria Census Metropolitan Area (CMA), figures for Langford and Esquimalt represent polar opposites.
Langford’s population jumped 31.8 per cent to 46,584 in the five-year span, making the city the fastest-growing municipality in B.C. with at least 5,000 inhabitants, and third fastest-growing in Canada behind two communities in Ontario.
That continued pace of growth contrasts sharply with Esquimalt, where total population shrank by 0.7 per cent to 17,533.
Langford’s growth rate represents a trend across Canada: communities outside CMA core areas are growing the most quickly, as high housing costs in core municipalities encourage residents to look for cheaper places to live. In its general analysis of Canada’s growing urbanization, Statistics Canada noted that such development nonetheless bears other calculable and incalculable costs in terms of emergency services such as policing, fire and ambulances, transportation and environmental sustainability.
Langford’s influence on the region can be put in additional context, when considering its net population growth of 11,242 accounts for 38.1 per cent of the additional 29,467 people who have called Greater Victoria home since 2016. By contrast, the region’s two largest municipalities – Saanich and Victoria – saw some, but far less relative growth.
Saanich, Vancouver Island’s largest municipality, grew by 3.1 per cent; Victoria, the Island’s commercial and cultural hub, grew 7.1 per cent – both slower than the region as a whole.
Other West Shore communities outpaced the regional growth rate, including Colwood (12.5 per cent, to 18,961) and View Royal (11.2 per cent to 11,575). Sooke, a good example of the aforementioned trend away from CMAs, posted the region’s second-highest growth of 16 per cent, with 15,086 residents in 2021. Even Metchosin, where population growth had previously been rather stagnant, grew by 7.6 per cent to 5,067 between 2016 and 2021.
Broadly put, Greater Victoria’s western suburbs are spreading rapidly, the immediate downtown core is experiencing some growth while the municipalities between the dense core and suburbs are growing more slowly, as in Esquimalt’s case. While other communities in B.C. and elsewhere in Canada experienced far larger shrinkage, the home of the Royal Canadian Navy’s Pacific Fleet was the fifth-fastest shrinking community in B.C.
Two sparsely populated rural electoral areas in B.C.’s Peace River Region, and the Nicola Valley town of Merritt lead that list.
Oak Bay, a jurisdiction that historically favours preservation above new development, also lost population, dropping by 0.6 per cent to 17,990.
On the Saanich Peninsula, the five-year period between censuses saw North Saanich — the second-largest municipality by area (37.16 sq. km) but the least dense (329.2 people/sq. km) – post the highest growth, increasing by 8.8 per cent to 12,235.
Central Saanich, the Peninsula’s most populous and largest (41.2 sq. km) municipality, grew 3.4 per cent to 17,385. Sidney, the most urban of the three with a population density of 2,413 people/sq. km, grew by 5.5 per cent to 12,318 people.
Competition between the Saanich Peninsula and West Shore to attract commerce – and therefore, residents –has also increased in recent years. An example is Langford’s ongoing work to lure Amazon, a bid that failed when the online retail giant chose a location inside Sidney’s municipal boundaries but under the jurisdiction of the Victoria Airport Authority. While Langford lost that battle, it has continued to promote a pro-growth agenda and housing more affordable than in the region’s core.
While the raw population numbers represent just the first of many data sets to be released by StatCan from the 2021 census in the coming weeks and months, they are perhaps the most important.
If democratic politics is the competitive, but peaceful allocation of scarce resources, the figures will help determine where those might end up by strengthening or weakening claims by sub-regions and their representatives.
Growing municipalities such as those on the West Shore can buttress their claims for more resources by pointing to the growing needs of their populations, whereas less dynamic regions might find their demands will increasingly fall on deaf ears among decision-makers not blind to political geographies.
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