With municipal censuses underway in Red Deer and Lethbridge, the title for the third largest city in Alberta is up for grabs.
The population between Red Deer and Lethbridge is neck-and-neck.
Red Deer, at 100,418 people, according to the 2016 federal census, has just 649 more people than Lethbridge at 99,769, using the 2018 municipal census figures.
Rick More, CEO of the Red Deer & District Chamber of Commerce, said given the two cities started their census at the same time (April 1), it offers us a “fantastic comparison.”
Red Deer will win the race, he predicted with a chuckle. Being the third largest city in Alberta comes with bragging rights, he added, remembering 2015, when the city hit the 100,000 mark.
He called it a proud moment for all Red Deerians.
“That was obviously a huge accomplishment for the city. So I guess pride stems from that to make a big hoopla about it. It obviously means something to people,” the chamber CEO said.
Without speculating on the census results, due in late July for Red Deer, Mayor Tara Veer points to the population surrounding the city.
“Regardless of whether Red Deer is third or fourth, we still serve the third largest region in the province,” she said, which would be about 350,000 to 400,000 people.
“So our regional influence is still there, regardless of whether as a city, we’re in third or fourth position.”
More said if Lethbridge becomes the third largest city in Alberta, Red Deer will have to look deeper and figure out why. Is it due to business growth or student population (with Lethbridge College and university), he said, speaking hypothetically.
The 2018 municipal census for the City of Lethbridge shows the population there was inching close to 100,000 (shy by just 231 people), which was an increase of 1,571 (a 1.6 per cent increase) from 2017.
The last municipal census for Red Deer in 2016 showed the city’s population was 99,832, a decrease of one per cent from 2015 at 100,807.
The federal census, also in 2016, showed Red Deer’s population at 100,418, according to the Stats Canada website. The same federal census shows Lethbridge’s population at 92,729 that year.
With the ongoing provincial recession, “we certainly have realized population loss as a result of the continuing economic recession, particularly in the energy sector,” Veer said.
But it’s hard to speculate where Red Deer stands; hence, counting the number of people in the city is important – to better understand the net loss or net gain of the population, the mayor said.
Veer said it’s imperative Red Deerians make themselves count, because both provincial and federal funding dollars depend on it.
“For every person that registers with the census, the city receives $249.47 per person in federal and provincial grants.”
These funds are important so the city can continue to provide the quality of life that Red Deerians have come to expect, she said, stressing the importance of infrastructure and programming dollars.
The mayor says what’s critical is the city stays above the 100,000 population threshold in order to compete in that category for grants. A growing city sends signals not just in the public sector, but also in the private sector, showing confidence in what’s understood to be a growing economy, she explained.
Red Deerians are proud of the influence and role the city plays provincially and federally, said Veer.
“That’s built in a number of factors over and above population alone,” she said, adding those include being central in the province and on the QEII trade corridor.
In the long-term future, the mayor projects population growth, given projects such as Red Deer College becoming a university and the establishment of the new Red Deer Justice Centre.