It seems that everyone agrees, from our regional rural development chair at Selkirk College to the federal government, the biggest problem threatening our economic future is babies. Or rather, the lack of them. Its not that our population is declining, immigration is boosting the numbers, but that, overall, the population is not growing. This is hitting us hard for keeping schools open, funding future retirees on the Canada Pension Plan, and even to try to find a way to develop our communities.
As a developed nation, we have worked hard to teach our citizens to make appropriate choices regarding pregnancies. And it has worked – the average Canadian family is three people. We’re not reproducing enough to replace ourselves!
I’m not one to talk being completely childless, but I’m still hoping for a pension some day. That means someone else has to have four babies to make up for me and my husband. Challenging to support in our times with the loss of high-wage jobs across the province and the general cost-of-living.
George Penfold, Selkirk College’s regional innovation chair, says that rural communities shouldn’t count on increasing populations to prop up their economies. In a recent interview by the Rossland Telegraph, Penfold suggested that communities need to count on lower or constant populations and learn to create development within that constraint.
So how does our local school district deal with continually declining school populations and funding levels that just don’t meet the rising costs of doing business? How does an organization or business operate in negative cash flows? It can’t. Bottom line. No matter how much we value an organization, it is just not possible for an operation to continually face deficits year-after-year and stay open.
If we look around there are many examples of valuable organizations we want to see operating in our towns – schools, hospitals, art galleries, museums – but where will their support come from? At the end of the day, unless the population increases dramatically, and there are no indicators that that time is soon (just refer to school enrollment statistics) we are going to be making some tough choices.
So for all of you in the child-bearing years, I recommend you get busy. Otherwise our schools and hospitals can’t stay open. No pressure…..