So, the City of Thompson is formally requesting Statistics Canada review its census finding released Feb. 8 that as of May 10, 2011 our population had dropped 4.6 per cent from 13,466 to 12,829 residents between 2006 and 2011. Good luck with that, we say, although we hope it turns out to be a case of nothing ventured, nothing gained, or we have nothing to lose by asking.
What’s at stake – besides civic pride in falling to fifth place on the list of Manitoba cities and behind Steinbach as the third-largest city in Manitoba – the first time Thompson hasn't been the third largest since 1971 – and Portage la Prairie in fourth spot, is the City of Thompson’s annual per capita grant from the Province of Manitoba will decrease by approximately $110,000 beginning next year, as a result of the 617-person drop. Federal gas tax revenue sharing with municipalities could also be on the line in two years if the current agreement is renewed. Size does indeed matter.
Steinbach was the fastest-growing city in the province over the last five years with a growth rate of 22.2 per cent and a 2011 population of 13,524.
After two months of low-level grumbling about the census numbers, our local politicos firmed up their decision to ask for Statistics Canada to review its own data collection after a recent Association of Manitoba Municipalities (AMM) meeting where Thompson learned a number of other places in Manitoba are equally unhappy with their census numbers and are contemplating seeing reviews. In reality, census population numbers for 2011 dropped not just in Thompson but in primarily non-First Nations communities across the board throughout Northern Manitoba, including also Flin Flon, Snow Lake, Cranberry Portage, The Pas and Churchill. Manitoba's population, however, overall reached 1,208,268 in May 2011, an increase of 5.2 per cent from 2006. Manitoba ranked fifth in population growth compared with other provinces. Canada’s population increased to 33,476,688.
Being regularly on the receiving end of the shoot-the-messenger business ourselves, we feel for those ever- dwindling number of federal statisticians and demographers at Statistics Canada. It’s not much fun delivering bad news no one wants to hear.
At its first council meeting after Statistics Canada released the new census numbers Feb. 13, Mayor Tim Johnston attributed our population drop over the last five years to three key factors, including: Lack of housing stock, affordable housing and diverse housing options; failure to fill out the census; and failure to declare Thompson as home.
Johnston said he’s skeptical as to whether the new figures reflect the genuine population, stating many residents he has discussed the issue with felt the same. Great. We hope there’s something a bit more substantive to our request for a review than the mayor’s gut feeling and coffee shop talk. This is the same Doubting Tim after all who would tell anyone who would listen during his first term as mayor from October 2006 to October 2010 that he doubted the old Stats Can count of 13,466 and thought our real number was somewhere between 15,000 and 16,000. Deputy mayor Dennis Fenske, presiding over council April 9 in Johnston’s absence, said, "As far as the mechanics of it [census review] I'm not exactly sure how that works. I would assume that it's similar to a recount in an election, or we provide data that was missed and ask that it be included in our numbers."
In accordance with the federal Statistics Act, responding to the census survey is mandatory and data was collected directly from respondents by “Internet, paper, the Census Help Line, and edit and non-response follow-up,” the agency says on its website methodology section.
Tara Newton, a demographics and census statistician with the Manitoba Bureau of Statistics in Winnipeg, Thompson's population, according to Statistics Canada census data, peaked at 19,001 in 1971. By 1976, the population had dropped to 17,291. In 1981, the population continued to plunge downward to 14,288. The 1986 population was 14,701; in 1991 it was 14,977; in 1996 it was 14,385; and in 2001 it was 13,256. Archival records of the Nickel Belt News from March 1961 estimate Thompson's population at 3,800 that year.
Johnston said Feb. 13 he anticipates a candid discussion with the Province of Manitoba regarding the costs of the disproportionate service needs in Thompson versus other like-sized communities. Candid is a diplomatic way of describing what is likely to be a chilly reception in Winnipeg. It’s not like the census numbers aren’t corroborated at least indirectly in other ways.
The long-awaited MNP (formerly Meyers Norris Penny) 43-page Governance and Organizational Effectiveness Review of the School District of Mystery Lake report delivered to NDP provincial Minister of Education Nancy Allan March 19, graphically (quite literally on Page 8) showed total enrolment going off a cliff at R.D. Parker Collegiate and Thompson’s six elementary schools, dropping from 3,338 to 2,912 between 2007 and 2012 – a period which largely overlaps with the last census count. Stats Can say we have lost 617 residents. MNP, in what in their words is a “steady decrease,” have lost 426 students. Maybe council will be asking SDML to check on whether MNP is open for a recount next.