It may be listed as the third fastest-growing town in Canada, but Okotoks is actually seeing growth slow to a crawl.
According to the 2016 federal census released Feb. 8, the Town’s population was 28,881 according to a count in May 2016, as compared to 24,511 in 2011, resulting in a 17.8 per cent population increase.
However, it’s only a three per cent increase over a municipal census in 2015, which reported 28,016 people resided in Okotoks.
It pales in comparison to growth rates in the early 2000s, when the population rose by close to 43 per cent between 2006 and 2011, and by nearly 47 per cent between 2001 and 2006.
Mayor Bill Robertson said he attributes slower growth in the past few years to the province’s current economic situation, and to Town concerns over water.
“Some people out there perceive we don’t have enough water,” said Robertson. “We certainly have enough water for everybody here, but I think that until we get the water pipeline in place we’re going to have slightly slower growth than perhaps some others in the region.”
Places like Chestermere, Airdrie and Cochrane saw their growth rates climb steadily as Okotoks numbers tapered off, which came as a surprise, he said.
According to the 2016 census, Chestermere saw its population rise from 14,824 in 2011 to 19,887 (34.2 per cent). Airdrie’s numbers went up 42.3 per cent, from 43,271 to 61,581; and Cochrane saw an increase of 47.1 per cent, from 17,580 to 25,853.
“It was a surprise that those three would continue their growth, and have faster growth than Okotoks over the past year,” said Robertson.
He said the economic slump has driven some emigration from Alberta, and particularly the Calgary region, and while people are still moving to the area, the numbers of new residents have dwindled.
It’s not all bad news though, he said. Okotoks continues to have healthy growth rates, and has not gone stagnant. It could mean more opportunity to catch up on infrastructure like hockey rinks and traffic flow, he said.
Construction of the Pason Centennial Arena will help balance out some of the need for ice surfaces, but if growth was continuing at the rate it was in 2001, Okotoks would be struggling to meet demand, he said.
“If our growth slows a little bit it’s not necessarily a bad thing, because it helps us grow our services and infrastructure,” said Robertson. “It’s hard to keep up with extremely fast growth.”