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October 28, 2017 12:24 am

The population explosion, or not

Thursday, February 4, 2016 @ 3:45 AM

By Bill Phillips


Can we have a thriving economy that isn’t constantly growing?

We seem to measure economic success by growth. Having spent my life in a sale-driven business I know that story only too well. If you did $100K in January last year, you should be doing $110K this year and $120K next. Not that growing is bad, it isn’t, but do we always have to outpace ourselves, year after year? Can we ever be happy just being what we are, if what we are is pretty darned good already?

News last week that Prince George’s population has continued to decline caught Mayor Lyn Hall by surprise and have several realtors in town in full denial. B.C. Stats, using Hydro connection numbers and health client registry numbers, have put the city’s population at 71,363, down 1,958 from the year before. This comes after the city’s population dropped by 671 the year before.

Hall and others are befuddled because the city’s economy continues to tick along. Unemployment is low, house sales are brisk, new developments are coming to town, building permits are humming along, etc.

And yet people are leaving the city.

In addition, the phenomenon isn’t limited to the past couple of years. Colin Kinsley, when he was mayor, was set to do the Conservatives’ dirty work for them and lay StatsCan to waste when the federal agency came out with population numbers he didn’t like.

Are the B.C. Stats numbers really that far out of whack? Are we trying to diminish bad news by donning our rose-coloureds glasses? Or are we finding it hard to reconcile the possibility that population can shrink even with good economic indicators?

It’s certainly puzzling, but it could be the new reality.

One thing that has to be taken into consideration is that the dismal days of 2008/09 seemed to be what economists call a “correction.” Industries that got hit hard in 2008 recovered, but not to pre-2008. The new reality was less.

That is certainly true in what is still the main driver of our economy, the forest industry. For example, if a mill was running with 500 workers pre-2008, they’re probably running with 350 now.

So if that adjustment has taken place, it means the people who are left are still working in good paying, secure jobs, and that creates a stable economy. In a stable economy, with people working, new houses will be built, new developments will occur, people will buy new houses, etc. We just might not see population growth.

Having said that, seeing the population dip by almost 3,000 people in the past two years is cause for concern.

Don Zurowski ran for mayor on a platform of trying to get the city’s population to 100,000 people. He didn’t have a concrete plan of how to do that, but the rationale is sound. Prince George has the infrastructure in place for another 20,000 people or so. In other words, we could handle a population boom without having to build a new arena, new schools, new pool, etc. New houses, yes, but not new city infrastructure. The city would certainly reap the benefit of more tax dollars or, perhaps, not have to tax everyone at the high level they are now (good luck with that, but it could happen). That would mean having more money to fix roads, etc. Plus, more population means more funds from higher levels of government.

Same goes for the school district. It is funded by a per-student formula, so just imagine what another couple thousand students would mean to the district. It would mean keeping schools open instead of closing them.

The new reality might be that a stagnant population doesn’t necessarily mean a stagnant economy, or perhaps that’s just a Prince George anomaly.

Thankfully we’re returning to the long-form census that, hopefully, will provide a more accurate population picture this year.


Bill Phillips is a freelance columnist living in Prince George. He was the winner of the 2009 Best Editorial award at the British Columbia/Yukon Community Newspaper Association’s Ma Murray awards, in 2007 he won the association’s Best Columnist award. In 2004, he placed third in the Canadian Community Newspaper best columnist category and, in 2003, placed second. He can be reached at billphillips1@mac.com



I haven’t filled out a census in 25 years, and neither have the last 5 neighbours I asked. I think they would come a lot when people are at work. I am rarely at home myself. I would like to know who is living in the thousands of houses built in the past decade or so,ha

You need good jobs to attract good people. There seems to be plenty of service jobs around but they won’t let you buy a new car or a house at 12 bucks an hour.

The amount of people who are anti job here in these forums is staggering. Let’s move the pulp mills. Let’s reduce the city work force. Let’s get rid of mines….you get the picture…..

I realise that the Mayor and city council can do very little by way of job creation. And if they offer tax incentives to companies who are looking around for places to invest in they get crucified by the public. It’s a no win situation.

Good, well paying jobs brings good people.

I agree with Census forms not being filled out.
I think PG is growing you can see it around town for the last few years.
I really think you will see an explosion in the next 5 to 10 as PG in BC is still very affordable to buy a house, lots of out door things to do, winters are getting less like winter.
For some of the big paying job I have been in evolved with in the IT trades sector there was not many applicants applied.

You just need the investors that are buying up the LML to start shopping here for real estate. Isn’t that what all those over seas trips for city council were for?

I think we have a conundrum here. One that faces every community in the country, and every country. Unavoidable business costs keep rising, and the only ways they can currently be met is for the business to ‘grow’. To increase its sales revenues, while at the same time trying to reduce, or at least contain, its avoidable costs. Those avoidable costs are, for the largest part, the cost of labor ~ wages and salaries.

There can be some savings in things like greater energy efficiencies, etc., but not a lot. And even those are negated by increases in hydro rates that are scheduled for the future.

When a business can’t reduce the wage rates paid, the only way it can effect a savings in labor is to reduce the number employed. And so we see, as Bill has noted above, the plant that employed 500 prior to 2008 now turning out as much product again as it was then, but with only 350 people doing it.

Has the price of the product come down proportional to the labor saving? Not to the consumer. It’s as high as it was before. Or maybe even higher. If it isn’t, then the number of plants making that product have diminished. With further job loss. But if the only source of INCOME for most people is still through employment, and employment is falling without any reduction in the costs of what they still need to live, how then is all that we’re making going to be sold?

Hall and others are befuddled because the city’s economy continues to tick along. Unemployment is low, house sales are brisk, new developments are coming to town, building permits are humming along, etc.


Huh? Building permit numbers were down at the end of 2015 and unemployment numbers are up. Of course, since Hall is a lifer in the civil service it really doesn’t matter to him, he’ll continue to get his pay cheque regardless of how bad the economy gets.

Free enterprise is dieing and monopoly capitalism is on the rise. We just signed the TPP deal that ensures our country will be nothing more than a corporate colonial out post. Innovation will be sacrificed for corporate productivity that sees larger and larger percentages of retained earnings repatriated to places like Wall Street.

If we want to grow we need more local ownership of industry, and we need to have a greater part of the economic process captured by this region. Other services like commodity trading, banking, head office locations, small business suppliers are areas of huge growth we should be focusing on for this region.

PG sells more than 20% of the new vehicles in all of BC with less than 2% of the provincial population. One new vehicle for every two man woman and child in the city…. Can we replicate that in other industries?

We should keep in mind that historically the Federal Census count, is lower than the BC Stats count put out by the BC Government. That’s one reason that Kinsely said the Census numbers were haywire. We get paid for various Government programs based on the Federal Census numbers.

Problem is, if the Provincial Number of 71,363 is somewhat correct, then the Federal number will probably be lower and will officially show our population below 71,000. IE. 69,500. Not a number that the City, or PG Boosters want to see.

One possible solution to keep this from happening is to ensure that you fill out the Census Form.

First off, the data the BC govn’t used was based off the 2011 census. It’s widely accepted that census produced very low quality data because it was optional.

Also, I would like to know the dates when this data was collected. Was it before or after the fall of oil? I’ve noticed a lot of Alberta plates are town. I know this is anecdotal, but we had lost a lot of people to Alberta in the 90’s. I suspect many may be returning.

pgJohn. What part of historical do you not understand. The Federal Stats are always lower than the Provincial numbers. This has been the case for many years regardless of whether it was the long form, or short form census.

Many people avoid filling out the Census forms for various reasons, in addition it is not a number one priority for younger people who live in apartments, or basements suites, etc;

In any event its pretty obvious that our numbers are down regardless of the format used.

These rebels that won’t fill out the census are only hurting themselves and the rest of us . So in their little peebrains they win . Not filling out the census is antisocial behaviour born out of low education and even lower social values .

What makes PG so unique in Canada or even just in BC that we do not fill out census forms? I doubt we are unique.

I worked for Census 10 years ago. There are follow ups of forms which are not collected by the enumerators. Census Canada has corrections based on known anomalies. Not every single person is counted, that is for sure. One of the problems is with people who are living in two places, such as students, workers in the oil fields and elsewhere. The more migrants there are, the worse it gets.

To eagleone – where do you get the 20% from? In the 12 months ending Nov. 2015 there were 16,195 new car sales in BC, up 4.2% from previous the year. SO we sell over 3,200 cars from PG?

Alberta sold 17,778 over the same period. That was down by 15.9% from the previous year.

Where do you get the 20% from?

Another factor in people not filling out the census honestly is illegal suites. So there may be more people living at that address, however because the suites are illegal the people are not counted.

The biggest reason our population is dropping is because people just aren’t having kids like they used to. Where once a family consisted of two parents and four kids in a 1000 sq. ft. home, now the new norm is childless couples, or one child, two at the most in a 3000 sq. ft. home.

The kids from past decades grew up, many of them moved away because the resource jobs that were here for their parents just weren’t available for them. Those who stayed have few if any kids but they do want a house, which is what is driving the new house construction. I predict that will soon come to an end.

Those new bike lanes and increased taxes should help… oh and don’t forget the CWG. LOL

Raise the minimum wage to 15 dollars an hour and it may give someone a reason live here.

Some Alberta cities and towns do there own census every year. Maybe Prince George should think of doing likewise.

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