LAC LA BICHE - Moving on up. Lac La Biche County's population numbers are showing signs of improvement, says Mayor Paul Reutov.
After a decade where annual people-tallies across the municipality showed significant drops, the latest provincial estimates that he has seen show a slight rebound from that trend.
"The population in Lac La Biche County — and this is a provincial study, not the federal — in (2022) has finally gone up," said Reutov. "In the last 10 years it was on a decline."
In fact, according to the statistics in the Municipal (census division) Population Estimates 2016-2022, released by the Alberta government in recent weeks, the decline has been going on for more than a decade. The report shows the municipality has been in a steady population spiral since a population peak in 2006. That year saw the highest municipal population in the community's history, at 9,936 people. In addition, municipal officials added another 2,500 to 3,000 people considered a "shadow population" made up mainly of industrial workers staying in the area for significant portions of the year and using municipal services. Since then, however, as local and global economies changed, the total population dropped to a low of just 8,148 in the province's 2021 count.
In 2022, however, the report shows that number rose to 8,187.
"We went up by 50 people," said the mayor, slightly inflating the actual 39-person difference indicated over the two year span.
No matter the math, the mayor is pleased to see any sign of improvement.
"We rebounded ... We are on the right track. We are going in the right direction," he said.
Lac La Biche County's year-over-year increase is just under half a percent. The town of Bonnyville's provincial numbers are up by almost three per cent, going from 5,750 in 2021 to 5,915 last year. The city of Cold Lake also saw an increase — more than two per cent — year over year, going from a provincial population figure of 15,180 in 2021 to 15,546 last year.
Not all up
Although the new provincial numbers show a slight increase for some Lakeland communities, others have shown slight drops over the last two years. The Town of St. Paul went from a 2021 provincially-tabulated population of 5,918 to 5,771 in 2022, down almost 200 people from the 5,978 recorded in 2016. The MD of Bonnyville is also down, recording 13,085 people in 2022 compared to a seven-year high of 13,245 the year before. Numbers for the County of St. Paul are down about half a percent in the 2022 provincial count over the year before — now at 6,073, down from 6,120. Elk Point had a recorded population of 1,175 in the 2022 provincial count, down just seven people from the year before, but continuing to fall from 1,487 recorded in 2016.
Stats Can differs
While the provincial report shows an increase for Lac La Biche County, the Statistics Canada census for 2021 tells a different story. The recently released 2021 federal statistics show Lac La Biche County with a population of just 7,673, down almost 8 per cent from the 8,330 recorded in the 2016 federal census. The new Statistics Canada census — which does not show 2022 numbers — continues to show the city of Cold Lake and the Town of Bonnyville with increased populations over the 2016 count.
Population figures affect grant funding formulas for municipalities when dealing with provincial and federal government departments.