The city councils of Saskatchewan’s two biggest cities are dreaming some pretty ambitious future population numbers these days – Saskatoon is eyeing expansion to over a million people while Regina is planning for 500,000.
Born of optimism from the continuing economic boom and rosy forecasts of long-term provincial economic growth fueled by natural resources and a resurgent agriculture sector, planners see the day when Regina and Saskatoon will be well over double their current size. In Regina’s case, that means annexing land on all sides of the city from the RM of Sherwood to accommodate expansion.
Are these projections realistic or just wishful thinking? Well, history does offer plenty of evidence for caution when it comes to population growth in this province.
Indeed, before the current economic boom began fuelling strong population growth less than 10 years ago, skeptics could point to the fact that Saskatchewan had a bigger population in the 1930s than in the 1970s. For example, the provincial population of 921,323 in 1976 was lower than that of 1936, when 931,547 people called the province home. And even though the province briefly surpassed the one-million mark in the 1980s, a stagnant economy and outmigration subsequently took the number down to 978,933 by 2001.
The longstanding theory that the province would always be “a million, give or take” also held that Regina – the “government town” – would hover around 200,000 people, while the more entrepreneurial Saskatoon would be slightly bigger.
But old theories have been shaken by the stunning population growth of recent years. As the province closes in on 1.1 million people, the census metroplitan areas of Regina (226,000) and Saskatoon (284,000) are already bigger than many thought they’d see in their lifetime.
A Conference Board of Canada report released this week predicts the province “will increase its population by more than 25 per cent over the long term”. That means, if current trends continue, there could be another 300,000 people in Saskatchewan by 2035.
As well as oil, natural gas and uranium, the Conference Board says global population growth will increase demand for Saskatchewan crops like wheat and canola and maintain a hot market for potash fertilizer. The current boom “is not just another commodity cycle”, the board says.
Given the evidence of the past few years, Regina and Saskatoon are indeed wise to plan well ahead. As Saskatoon Mayor Don Atchison said recently, “All you have to do is look at Calgary. Some 45 years ago, it was basically the same size as Saskatoon today and they are at 1.1 million people.”
A future Saskatoon the size of Calgary?” Regina growing as big as London, Ont.?
It’s not an impossible dream.
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