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Failing to keep pace

Numbers can paint very vivid — and disconcerting — pictures of society.

And the portrait rendered by the Statistics Canada material specific to Central Alberta, released last week, is more than a little disconcerting.

The stats suggest some major demographic shifts that will place increased pressure on a number of services, for families and seniors particularly, in Red Deer.

The most recent census numbers (data was gathered in 2011 and is released in bits and pieces as it is parsed) examine the changing nature of the Canadian family, and our individual living relations. For our region, four critical things stand out:

• 17.4 per cent of Red Deer families were single-parent; Sylvan Lake (15.5 per cent) and Rocky Mountain House (16.5 per cent) were also over the provincial average of 14.5 per cent. And across the nation, single-parent families rose by eight per cent from 2006. In Red Deer alone, 4,200 single parents are raising children.

Single-parent families typically need more services, both economic and social, and that puts pressure on both the municipal and the provincial government. Red Deer Mayor Morris Flewwelling said last week that the city is a “catchment centre” for single-parent families from around the region. But as the numbers grow, so too must the services.

• In 47.5 per cent of Red Deer households, there were still children (24 years old and younger) living at home, an increase of 6.2 per cent in five years. The national average is 46.9 per cent. And of those families, 15.4 per cent were blended; the national average for stepfamilies is 12.6 per cent.

New schools now planned in the region (in Red Deer and Penhold) won’t keep pace with the growth in the number of young families in the city. As well, the projects are long overdue and local school crowding has become endemic.

Similarly, Red Deer College has felt increasing pressure, with no easy way to manage it.

Enrolment at RDC has been relatively fixed in recent years, “simply because of our inability to launch new programs due to budget constraints the Alberta government has had to deal with,” RDC president Joel Ward told the Advocate a year ago. “Enrolment growth comes with new programs and we need new programs to continue to grow this institution. We have capacity and we want to continue to grow and fill this institution.”

Post-secondary education funding is a provincial responsibility.

• There are 9,540 people living alone in Red Deer, representing 26.2 per cent of all households. The provincial average of one-person households is 24.7 per cent.

Many of those are seniors, who are increasingly being required to rely on strained home-care services and the resources of family members to cope.

Almost a year ago, Alberta Premier Alison Redford told a Red Deer audience that her party will solve the housing crisis that has left so many elderly Albertans in difficult circumstances. She talked about adding 1,000 seniors care units to the system as soon as possible and removing the cap on seniors’ housing costs that stop continuing-care facilities from expanding.

No new beds have been announced or created in Red Deer since then.

• There were 36,345 private households in Red Deer in 2011. That’s an increase of 10.8 per cent in five short years. In 2006, there were 82,971 people in Red Deer. The 2011 census put our population at 91,877 (a growth rate of 10.7 per cent in five years). And the city projects a population of 121,241 by the year 2026, based on modest growth estimates.

In the five years from 2006 to 2011 (and since), no significant community facilities have been built, for cultural or recreational activities.

Increasingly, the lives of Red Deerians are constrained by lack of services, facilities and apparent vision, from both the provincial and federal government.

The numbers don’t lie.

John Stewart is the Advocate’s managing editor.



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