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City surprised by census results, County not so much

In just one year, the official population count in Grande Prairie went down by more than 5,300 people. While the census as of July 1st last year was up 13.5 per cent from 2011, it was down nearly eight per cent from what the city itself tallied in 2015.

Part of the drop can likely be explained by the downturn in the economy and the time of year, as the municipal census in 2015 was done in July, and the federal one in the spring during traditional break up time. Deputy Mayor Jackie Clayton argues it also didn’t take the transient population into consideration.

“So whether it be people working on big developments in our city staying in hotels for six months at a time, none of those people get counted. We don’t get our funding based on the shadow population but we will see an increase of numbers in our city.”

In 2011, the undercoverage accounted for about 4 per cent of the city’s population, and Clayton expects the situation is the same this time around. The city gets roughly $229 in per capita funding, so the decrease will mean more than $1.2 million less in 2018 and 2019.

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“With the recent upswing in activity, we’re already seeing an increase in relocation back to Grande Prairie” says Clayton. “The other thing to keep in mind is that we will do a municipal census in 2018 so it won’t be long before we have another opportunity to measure those numbers again.”

At the same time, there wasn’t much surprise for the County of Grande Prairie. Its population continues to grow at a rapid pace with 22,303 people now living in the region, up 13.1 per cent from 2011. That year saw a 10 per cent increase from 2006.

Reeve Leanne Beaupre says they saw it coming, as they’ve watched development permits fluctuating over the past few years.

“We’re very fortunate to have four major pillars of our economy, and when one is suffering the others seem to rise a little bit higher. We’ve seen more innovation and investment in forestry again, so that’s certainly helped growth as well as agriculture and tourism.”

One small surprise was that losing roughly 800 people to city through annexation didn’t hurt numbers in the long run. Although the economy has dropped since last year, Beaupre sees enough young families to keep things growing.

“I think lots of times there’s a stigma towards going north because everyone thinks it’s rural and remote, but when you get here and found out we have all of the services available to them that they have all across Canada and into the United States, people recognize that the quality of life is better.”

Both the City and County grew at a faster rate than the provincial average of 11.6 per cent and national average of 5 per cent. The city was also ranked 7th on the list of highest population growth rates.

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