Making the count Inside the Civic census

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.

New life persists

While Calgary’s net migration varies widely year to year, our natural increase, the excess of births over deaths, is fairly steady with numbers since 1993 ranging from a low of 7,028 in 1996 to a high of 8,927 in 2004. Between 2006 and 2017, the natural increase ranged from a low of 9,631 in 2012 and a high of 10,812 in 2015.

Ward boundaries change this year

Eligible voters in Calgary will be looking at new ward boundaries that may impact who they vote for in the fall election of City councillors, mayor and school board trustees.

In fact, 58 communities are affected by new boundaries that will, in some cases, change where candidates campaign and where citizens vote, said Paul Denys, manager, Election and Census.

“We’re facing the biggest changes to ward boundaries that we’ve had in 20 years,” he said.

The City reviews ward boundaries and makes revisions when necessary to ensure there is a balance in the distribution of population among all 14 wards.

Fastest-growing communities

  • Auburn Bay (1,870 additional residents)
  • Evanston (1,621 additional residents)
  • Legacy (1,560 additional residents)
  • Nolan Hill (1,556 additional residents)
  • Skyview Ranch (1,465 additional residents)
  • Mahogany (1,444 additional residents)
  • The Beltline (1,261 additional residents)
  • Redstone (1,018 additional residents)

We’re going high-tech with voter registration

For the first time in a Calgary municipal election, eligible voters were able to register online. Using a code received in the mail, voters could register and complete the city census online during April. For those who didn't complete their information online, census takers collected it when they went door to door in the traditional way.

More of us each year are counting ourselves in online

We’ve had the option to complete the annual census online since 2015 and more of us have been doing so every year since. This year, 177,698 households used the online system, a whopping increase from the just under 100,000 households the previous year.

“We always hope that citizens complete their census and try to offer a variety of convenient options to do so,” Denys says.

Like last year, 900 census takers each equipped with iPads hit the streets, beginning in late April 22. While their routes don’t change, they do have fewer houses to go to because they can see on their iPads which residents have already completed their census online. The increased use of online and electronic data collection and tabulation have helped control the cost of the annual census -- about $700,000.

The 2017 census is a base version that counts dwelling units and ownership, number of residents, school support and the number of eligible voters. Voter registration is included this year because it’s an election year. As well, the school boards requested a count of pre-school aged children born between 2011 and 2017 to accurately plan for this new group of children.

Do we love our dogs twice as much as our cats?

There are some things we don't count every year. The 2016 Calgary census showed a count of pets, the first time that information was collected since 2010. The results? 135,070 dogs and 70,023 cats.

In contrast, the Canadian Animal Health Institute reported in 2015 there were seven million cats in Canada in 2014 and 6.4 million dogs.

While Calgary’s historical counts of cats and dogs dating back to 1995 show the number of dogs and cats were almost the same, those numbers started to diverge dramatically in 2010 when the census counted 122,325 dogs and 91,551 cats.

Tara Lowes, superintendent, Administration & Shelter Services, says she’s not sure why the numbers of cats have dropped.

“There could be a wide variety of reasons why the reported numbers are down,“ Lowes said. “The census doesn’t give us this information and there’s no way to follow up.”

In 2006, The City merged the Animal Control Bylaw and Cat Control Bylaw into the Responsible Pet Ownership Bylaw, which requires dogs and cats to be licensed. Lowes said there are advantages to licensing animals, such as reuniting lost pets with their owners. In fact, Calgary is one of the few municipalities that will drive licensed animals home instead of taking them to the shelter.

The first time the animal is at large, we’ll educate the owner about responsible pet ownership and possibly give a warning rather than a ticket for violating the bylaw, she said.

Last year, 466 cats of the 923 at the shelter were picked up by their owners while peace officers drove home about 59 cats that had identification. Out of the 2,172 licensed dogs that were picked up last year, 585 were driven home and 1,374 were returned to their owners from the shelter.

Calgary has the highest pet return rate and the lowest euthanasia rate in North America, said Lowes.

“We’re seen as leaders in animal management.”

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