Data appear to back cities' calls for aid

Wednesday, July 17, 2002 – Print Edition, Page A6

New census statistics that show her community has one of the oldest populations in Southern Ontario did not surprise Debbie Zimmerman, but she said the news supports the need for more provincial and federal funds for, among other things, transportation and affordable housing.

"There are implications for jobs, social services and health care," the chairwoman of the Regional Municipality of Niagara said after learning that three of her municipalities have the largest number of residents over the age of 41.

The data, based on the 2001 census by Statistics Canada, showed a mixed bag of trends in an area of Southern Ontario that combines five census metropolitan areas with a population of 6.1 million. According to the figures released yesterday, some municipalities have young populations, others have an aging citizenry, while Toronto faces its own set of problems.

For the purposes of the census, the Golden Horseshoe area was extended to include Lake Ontario north to Barrie, Durham Region west to Kitchener, and southeast to the St. Catharines-Niagara region. Along with three other urban centres -- British Columbia's Lower Mainland and southern Vancouver Island, the Calgary-Edmonton corridor, and Montreal and the adjacent region -- they account for 51 per cent of Canada's population.

According to the census, the median age within the Golden Horseshoe was 36.4 years, an increase of 1.7 years from 34.8 in 1996, the year of the previous census.

Ms. Zimmerman said her region foresaw the aging trend and developed strategies to attract skilled workers to fill the jobs of retirees, and new immigrants who tend to have young families. She said that people remain in the area because of its favourable climate and attractions, such as 40 wineries.

But the province needs to extend GO Transit to the region for an aging population that depends on public transportation, she said.

Niagara-on-the-Lake, with about a quarter of its population 65 years of age or older, has a median age of 46.3, the oldest in the Horseshoe area.

Port Colborne and Pelham also have a median age of more than 40.

The only other municipality in the Horseshoe with an aging population is Puslinch, a rural area near Guelph, at 42.4.

The cities of Vaughan, Brampton and Barrie have the opposite problem -- a young population.

Robert Brindley, Brampton's director of economic development, said his city has been attracting businesses and young workers with young families with cheaper housing and by building superparks, new schools and daycare centres.

In fact, the city west of Toronto ranks seventh in Canada in construction activity.

The median age in Brampton is 32.9 and more then 232,000 residents are 44 or younger, compared with about 22,600 who are over 65.

Toronto, whose population was boosted almost 2 per cent by immigrants in the period between the two censuses, had a median age of 36.9.

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