Remember when a population of a million people was a benchmark for Saskatchewan?
For decades, Saskatchewan's population fluctuated around one million. Sometimes it was over a million, often it was under a million. It was as recently as five-and-a-half years ago that the population was below seven figures, even though this province is blessed with natural resources, wonderful people and an infectious work ethic.
Saskatchewan residents should be used to hearing glowing reports about the rise in this province's population during the last five years, but even the most optimistic number cruncher likely couldn't have expected the numbers that Statistics Canada released in late September.
The province's population was hovering near 1.08 million, as of July 1. The increase from July 1, 2011, to July 1, 2012, was about 22,000, which is the largest increase over a 12-month span since 1941, when Saskatchewan had more people than B.C. or Alberta.
Immigration, a natural increase (births minus deaths) and net in-migration from other provinces all fuelled the population rise.
We used to celebrate when the population topped one million, and sulk when it dropped to six figures. The surging population means that Saskatchewan will likely top 1.1 million early sometime in the next six to eight months.
The reasons for this boom are well-documented: a wealth of natural resources that allows Saskatchewan's economy to remain strong while many others falter; an influx of newcomers from other countries who have enriched our communities with their culture, work ethic and intelligence; a government that encourages investment and supports business.
Gone are the days when a myopic cabinet minister would proclaim that a Saskatchewan of a million people would mean more for those in the province. If Saskatchewan's population ever returns to around a million people, a lot of government leaders will have failed miserably, and there'll be less, not more, for those of us who remain.
Population growth isn't the ultimate indicator of a province's growth, but it carries a lot in terms of public perception. It's a question that people constantly turn to: how many people live in your community or your province? They aren't necessarily asking about your province's GDP growth, or your increase in weekly wages, or your province's retail sales growth.
Those answers are nice to know, and nice to promote to others, but people often want to know about population.
Saskatchewan's boom can't last forever. Eventually, an economy dependent on natural resources will stumble, and so they key will be to try to retain those who have followed the opportunity, and come here to work, live and raise a family.
But when the boom does end, we should be left with a bigger, stronger and much more populous province than when Saskatchewan's economic fortunes started to turn in 2005.