What do we want our community to look like 50 years from now?
The Central Okanagan Foundation asked this question, which became the focus of their latest Vital Signs program. The first of the program’s six sections, Creating Community: Inclusion and Leadership, sheds light on some of the demographic issues that the Central Okanagan is facing, and what we need to do to create a brighter future for everyone.
What was found is that the Central Okanagan is becoming an increasingly exclusive place to live, with an especially large proportion of seniors, and small proportion of millennials and international immigrants compared to many other parts of Canada. The immigrants who do call the Central Okanagan home are mostly Euro-American, or even more so migrating from other parts of Canada.
Canada’s overall population is aging noticeably, with a median age of 26.2 years old in 1971 compared to 40.6 today. With the combination of this and falling birth rates (from 4.0 in the 1960s to 1.6 today), it means that our population is retiring faster than they are reproducing, and if it weren’t for immigrants, the overall population would actually be on a decline.
To tighten the scope a little, the Central Okanagan is experiencing an even more drastic shift in population aging than Canada’s average, with 36 seniors for every 100 working aged people.
Why is this important? This demographic shift is likely to have a profound effect on our economy. As the retired population increases, so does the need for support from government programs such as healthcare and Old Age Security. Meanwhile, lowered birth rates are creating a smaller working generation, who are normally the ones paying into these programs through taxes. The costs are increasing, but the revenues are shrinking.
So, unless we start having a whole lot of babies real fast, we are likely to run into some issues in the future. This is not a realistic expectation with the rising costs of living and more focus on careers and other life goals - and this is just one of the reasons why we depend on immigrants in order to thrive.
Not only do we need to foster a larger working-aged population to help fuel the economy, but a community that is diverse and inclusive regardless of age, culture, gender or orientation is one that encourages openness, creativity and progress.
The Central Okanagan is currently a community that is known for being high-end, with beautiful landscapes, recreations galore and never-ending vineyards. This does of course attract many to the area, especially tourists and retirees, who do invest into the community and economy. But in an area that is predominantly retiring, Euro-American, and increasingly expensive to live in, are we really creating an environment that will welcome the diverse new people we will need to thrive?
In 50 years from now, over half of the Central Okanagan’s population will be made up of people who don’t live here now. At that time, we hope that we have fostered not only a community, but a lasting culture that is inclusive, welcoming and respectful. Inclusive of all the different types of people we will meet, welcoming to those migrating or immigrating from other places as most of our families did, and respectful towards the environment and the Indigenous people who have been here since the beginning.
How do you feel about this topic, and what do you think we can do to encourage a culture of inclusivity to help our community grow? To view the full Vital Signs brief, click here.
Community Foundations are charitable organizations dedicated to improving communities in specific geographical areas. Central Okanagan Foundation does this by pooling the charitable gifts of donors to create endowment funds and using the investment income to make grants.
The Central Okanagan Foundation supports registered charities within the Central Okanagan Region. This encompasses the District of Lake Country, City of Kelowna, City of West Kelowna, and District of Peachland.
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