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Esquimalt population has dropped since 2006, census finds

Feb 09 2012

While most of the four core municipalities experienced modest growth in the past five years Esquimalt lost residents, according the 2011 census.

Esquimalt's population dropped 3.7 per cent to 16,209 from 16,840 between 2006 and 2011. That compares to 2.5 per cent growth in Victoria; 1.4 per cent growth in Saanich and 0.6 per cent growth in Oak Bay.

Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins was surprised and at a loss to explain the decline. "You have to wonder how does that happen," Desjardins said.

"It is interesting and it certainly speaks to the fact that we need to continue to try to diversify our housing and improve our economic development so that we can attract young families and make it affordable so that they can come in.

"We need to grow that population base and the tax base," she said.

Esquimalt's official community plan adopted in 2007 projected growth of 5,000 people over 10 years.

"So the census is indicating a different direction and we need to figure out what are the economic factors that may be influencing that."

Desjardins said the population explosion in the West Shore over the same period (Langford's population increased by 30.1 per cent; Colwood by 9.6 per cent and Sooke by 17.9 per cent) underscores the need to address regional transportation issues.

"If we don't get our act together they won't need to or want to come downtown or to our areas," she said.

Saanich Mayor Frank Leonard said the numbers pretty much reflect what Saanich planners had been anticipating. "We're not aggressively pursuing growth. We're in an urban containment environment and an infill environment," Leonard said.

"It's not a race. I think we're more interested in the quality of life than the size of the population."

Leonard said he'd be worried about no growth or population decline. "That's not healthy because you have fewer people paying for the same or more services. So I would be concerned if that were to occur," he said.

Oak Bay Mayor Nils Jensen also said the numbers are not a surprise. He said Oak Bay is fully built out.

"We've had some additional housing put in here and there but we're a completely built out community apart from the odd lot here and there," Jensen said.

In Victoria, Mayor Dean Fortin said, "We need to do the work as a city to ensure that we continue to attract people to live in the city. We need to do that through more affordable housing. And we need to continue to attract businesses to come and invest in the downtown." Fortin said Langford's growth is significant but "as the downtown core goes so goes the region."

bcleverley@timescolonist.com

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