Opinion

HEROD: Great growth is in eye of beholder

By Doug Herod

I’m not the sort of guy who likes to beat a topic to death.

Oops, my mistake. I am that guy.

So be it.

The revisited topic in question is the 2016 census. Or at least the reaction to the results.

Plus, in a somewhat related vein, there is the response to news of a sharp hike in Niagara real estate prices.

As noted last week, the release of official population data every five years is the time for politicians from strong-growth municipalities to beat their chests like latter-day Tarzans.

Such enthusiasm was demonstrated in Niagara-on-the-Lake and Niagara Falls, municipalities which grew, respectively, by 13.7 per cent and 6.1 per cent.

The pride expressed was understandable and deserved.

Indeed, it marked one of those rare occasions when the gushings of Niagara Falls Mayor Jim Diodati were reality-based. Well, until he starts talking about the impact of GO train service, that is.

What causes the gains of NOTL and the Falls to be impressive is that neither of them are particularly close to the Toronto orbit, which makes their population hikes more impressive than, say, commuter town Grimsby.

The results for Niagara as a whole, though, are kinda blah.

Its 3.8 per cent growth rate is slightly below the provincial average, but more instructive is its sluggishness when compared with other regions in the aforementioned Toronto orbit.

While Niagara outpaced Hamilton (up 3.3 per cent), it fell behind the growth rates of Halton (9.3 per cent), Peel (6.5 per cent), York (7.5 per cent), Durham (6.2 per cent), Waterloo (5.5 per cent), Wellington County, the home of Guelph (6.9 per cent), Simcoe County, the home of Barrie (7.5 per cent).

That’s OK, though. No need to feel sad and defeated. Most of those joints are simply more accessible to Toronto.

Alas, we’re not a particularly accepting lot in Niagara when it comes to population and growth data.

Thus, we have Welland Mayor Frank Campion calling his city’s growth of 3.1 per cent “very encouraging” and suggesting GTA residents “are looking at Niagara, and Welland in particular, as a very affordable alternative to where they live, while also providing a great lifestyle.”

Campion is rightly a cheerleader for his city. Promoting Welland is an important part of his job.

But let’s keep things in perspective here. The population of Milton, a once rural outpost in Halton Region, has grown 30.5 per cent since 2011. Now, that statistic, I would suggest, better illustrates where GTA residents were looking for more affordable residential alternatives to Toronto the past five years. The massive, soulless subdivision that is Milton also makes it clear that a great lifestyle is either vastly overrated or is very much in the eye of the beholder.

But Campion is far from being alone in his views.

In the story that detailed how the average sale price for a residential home in Niagara increased by more than 20 per cent this January compared to last January, Niagara Regional Chairman Al Caslin got out the pom-poms, too.

“A lot of great things are happening in Niagara right now that are causing people to have a closer look at us and perhaps want to locate down here,” said Caslin.

Sure, the pending arrival of GO train service helps, he allowed, but there’s more, too.

“The inter-municipal transit system that we’re working on. The fact now that we’ve never before had such co-operation between all four levels of governments, right from the feds right down to the municipalities, where we’re working together to achieve goals like we never have in the past.”

By a marvellous coincidence, this unverifiable, unquantifiable state of inter-governmental bliss and the unprecedented, if somewhat fuzzy, goal-achievement, both of which were apparently unattainable for 45 years, have occurred since Caslin was appointed chairman in late 2014.

Well done, sir! Take a bow. Oh right, you already have.

In light of these newly discovered merits, I look forward to Niagara enjoying Milton-like results in the 2021 census.

Or Halton results. Perhaps York. Maybe Durham. Or …

dherod.niagara@gmail.com