The City of Lacombe is not buying Statistics Canada’s last head count and plans its own municipal census this spring.
The 2021 federal census estimated 13,396 people called Lacombe home, a drop of 589 residents from the city’s 2019 municipal census, which counted 13,985 residents.
It is typical for federal census numbers to lag behind the city’s own count “reflecting lower overall response rates,” says a report from Diane Piché, director of corporate services.
Lacombe officials also take issue with StatsCan’s methodology. In 2021, 5,552 private dwellings were counted, yet enumerated only 5,194 as being private dwellings occupied by the usual residents. The 358 not counted were vacant, under construction or residents refused census takers.
By comparison, the city counted 6,218 private dwelllings, including various forms of houses, secondary suites, multiplex suites, condominiums and apartments. From 2019 to 2022, another 317 new developments were built, bringing the number of private dwellings up to 6,535 by the city’s count.
Based on StatsCan’s population and dwelling data, there is an average of 2.6 people per household.
“Using the average of 2.6 people per household, and the estimated 6,535 private dwellings, a total count of over 15,000 citizens can be inferred,” says the report.
Lacombe officials are skeptical of the federal numbers because of the growth the city is seeing. The community’s healthiness was backed up by an ATB Economics report last month that pegged Lacombe as the 10th fastest-growing city among the province’s 16 cities, with a population increase of 6.5 per cent from 2016 to 2022.
Airdrie was the fastest growing, with its population surging 25.3 per cent over the same period. Another bedroom community, Beaumont, south of Edmonton, was second at 21.5 per cent.
An accurate head count is important for grant funding. While per capita funding grants are not as prevalent as they once were, each additional resident is still worth more than $160 in provincial and federal grants.
Some of that is offset by library and garbage costs the city has to pay per resident. But each new resident is still worth about $103 in extra revenue. By that measure, the city would only need to count an additional 389 people to offset the $40,000 cost of a municipal census.
Lacombe was not the only community that felt its population count was off, Piché told council on Monday.
“When the federal numbers came out in 2022 there was concern expressed by many municipalities that their population was not being properly reflected,” she said.
As a result, the province dropped a population system based on federal numbers and allowed municipalities to do their own counts again.
Council voted unanimously to go ahead with a census on April 4.