By Louise Gibbs
City of Calgary
The Calgary census reflects stories of our lives
A census is a tool of numbers, and yet, our Calgary census tells us stories of our human condition -- our struggles and dreams; our new lives and sad deaths; our striving for success -- even, some years, our love for pets.
Hopes for a better life have brought people to Calgary for decades, causing our population to grow almost every year.
But our city isn’t immune to struggles, as we’ve seen since the price of oil started falling. Calgary’s 2016 census last year revealed that thousands more people left the city than moved in.
That's not the case any longer. The recent.y released 2017 Civic Census shows a modest, but increase in net migration of 974 people. Along with the natural increase increase of 10,192 (birth minus deaths), that brings the total count to 1,246,337.
Complete census results
Planning for success
The City uses its annual census as an input to gauge demand for City services and plan for things like recreation facilities, fire halls and development of available land for housing. The City also uses it to establish per capita grants from other orders of government.
The best possible planning is so important to our growing city that The City created Action Plan 2015-2018 using input from citizens, City Council and City staff. The plan sets Calgary’s future direction and determines the right balance between investing in quality public service and keeping property tax rates affordable.
Part of Action Plan 2015-2018 includes making annual adjustments to plans for City capital projects, programs, services and facilities, and to taxes, utility rates and user fees. Annual adjustments allow The City to respond to emerging economic, demographic or financial events and unexpected issues.
In the early years of the plan implementation, the challenge was how to best cope with rapid growth.
When the plan was being created in 2014, Calgary’s population was 1,195,194, a leap of 38,508 from the year before. The average increase from 2011 to 2013 was 28,390. Considering these numbers and other data, the Action Plan team estimated, seemingly conservatively, that the population would grow by 100,000 people from 2015 to 2018.
And then oil prices started falling. By Dec. 8, 2014, the price of oil had dropped to $70 a barrel from $115 a barrel in June the same year. The price kept falling and many Calgarians started to be affected by Calgary’s resulting economic downturn. The City responded by early 2015 with several initiatives.
Even though the 2015 census, released in mid-2015, showed Calgary’s population grew by 35,721 to 1,230,915, Calgary’s economy was clearly continuing to suffer. The City responded further with changes to the tax rate and various fees, and identified initiatives to help citizens.
When the results of the 2016 census were released, the numbers revealed just how badly our city had been ravaged by the precipitous drop in the price of oil. The city had grown by a mere 4,256 people and only because there were more births than deaths. We saw 6,527 more people leave the city than arrive.
In response to the continuing economic downturn, City Council approved the 2017 municipal property effective tax rate increase of zero per cent on April 10 this year. Last year, Council cut the 2017 property tax rate to 1.5 per cent from 4.7 per cent. Councillors then decided to provide a 1.5 per cent rebate to cut the effective rate increase to zero.
Council also approved fee relief, one-time initiatives such as allowing greater access to affordable housing, and strategic investments to stimulate Calgary’s economy.
The population growth shown in the most recent 2017 census suggests that there is cause for cautious optimism.
Glimpse of the future, helps us to plan
While the most anticipated question that comes with the census results is “What is Calgary’s latest population?” the census data is important to those who need it for planning purposes.
The value of an annual census is that it helps The City to be more responsive to citizens' needs, said Paul Denys, The City's manager of Election and Census.
The annual census allows The City of Calgary to use accurate population numbers to corroborate economic conditions and citizen feedback, which influence how The City allocates millions of dollars for services such as roads, transit, police and fire protection, recreation and utility services for our almost 1.25 million citizens. School boards also use the census data to determine their needs for such things as transportation and future schools.
Many jurisdictions don’t have annual censuses, but The City decided in 1958 that collecting data every year gave our city more advantages than a census done every few years, which it had been doing since its first in 1931. Because our population is almost always growing and because provincial and federal limited grants are calculated on a per capita basis using the population count from an official census, we receive more grant money by reporting fresh data than having the grants based on numbers from the federal census, which is conducted every five years, according to City of Calgary’s Civic Census Policy Nov. 7, 1984.
Tough years stand out in Calgary’s history of growth
Among years of steady and sometimes impressive population growth, four years stand out like scars, one of them being 2016. In 1983, Calgary’s population dropped by 2,441 people and in 1984 by 878 people. During those years, Canada’s National Energy Policy, which took oil wealth out of Alberta, was in effect, and the world was mired in recession.
In 1992, our population dropped by 853 people because of the recession in the early 1990s.
Calgary’s 2010 census revealed the aftershock we felt from the 2008 financial crisis. Our population grew by just 6,060 people in 2010 after averaging an annual growth of 26,392 people from 2005 to 2009. Our population in 2016 grew by just 4,256 people after averaging an annual growth of 31,880 people from 2011 and 2015.
The 2010 growth slump was underscored by a net migration of -4,154 people, that is, more people moved out of Calgary than moved in. The population increased only because of births.