August 25th, 2019

We’ll be older, but will we be smarter?

By Collin Gallant on May 9, 2019.

We heard it again this week.

In the near future, Hatters, like most Canadians, will be older.

On the surface, the statement is a no-brainer and as true as the unstoppable nature of time.

However, the issue behind the statement is a major bulge in population throughout Canada is now teetering on or well beyond retirement age. 

That state of affairs, decades in the making, will require us to finally address major structural issues in our local economy and local government. 

For decades, as well, they have relied on measures of “population growth” to spur activity and economies of scale to deliver services cheaply.

Seniors are indeed fine citizens and an important part of the community, but will not, generally, be building new houses, starting new businesses, or having more children. It’s a fact. 

Considering the relatively lower numbers in the prime-working generation, or children who will be new workers in 20 years, many may struggle to sell off what they have now.

Glancing on the subject this week was a presentation to various local councils by the board of the Cypress View Foundation, the multi-jurisdictional organization that provides housing for low-income seniors.

The cost of living, cost of home ownership and cost of health care will leave many more of them poorer than expected, it is said.

Simple math tells us they will be more numerous.

Despite that obvious conclusion there are no plans to expand services or the facility. And perhaps the 59-year-old organization is out of step with today’s fashion of limiting public sector activity in an attempt to arrest tax hikes.

What will most certainly affect taxation issues, however, is a huge shift of workers out of the workforce and seniors out of their homes.

The 2016 federal census data for the local area showed that Medicine Hat is not immune to demographic changes in North America or, in fact, may be particularly exposed with a higher number of older individuals.

Hatters aged over 65 now outnumber those younger than 15, with the trend expected to continue in the mid-term range.

Examined in five-year groupings, the largest single cohort are the so-called baby boomers who will reach retirement age by 2026.

We are about even with the national average, but the oldest in Alberta. A shift into retirement, also means a shift in real estate market, which forms the basis of municipal tax revenue.

As if on cue, fewer workers and homeowners will have to pay to renew infrastructure built during the mid-20th century boom aided by the baby boom.  

One of the most scrutinized claims of the newly elected provincial government is that it can rein in its overall budget by freezing health care spending without affecting service levels. 

Experts predict that, even in the youngest province in Confederation, it will be difficult to do because older patients require more care and more expensive care.

However, all public services boast a different economy of scale. 

The more customers on a single sewer, power or water line, or garbage truck route, the cheaper it is per customer.

Last year the City of Medicine Hat’s planning department released wide parameters for a planned update the long-term development plans. It notes that housing, transportation and other amenities will require a need a major shift in thinking to remain affordable and accessible to the population at that time.

A memorable headline in the News regarding the report was that the Hat in 2037 would be “older, drier and falling apart.”

We’ll certainly be older. It remains to be seen if we’ll be smarter.

(Collin Gallant is a News reporter. To comment on this and other editorials, go to https://www.medicinehatnews.com/opinions.)

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