WATERLOO REGION — Ontario is predicting this region will not only pull out of its growth slump — its population will grow even faster than forecast.
New estimates written into law by the Liberal government put the regional population at 742,000 residents by 2031, 13,000 more than previously forecast.
By 2041, the population is expected to reach 835,000. Currently, Waterloo Region’s population is estimated at 559,000, including university students.
The new forecast asserts that we’ll live longer, fertility rates will rise, the transforming provincial economy will recover its historic strength, Ontario will reassert itself as an immigration magnet, and this region will have enough drinking water and sewage treatment after 2031 to handle more residents.
Since 2008, the region has been adding 7,100 residents per year.
The province forecasts the region will grow by 10,700 residents per year over the next two decades, and 10,200 per year over three decades. This matches the five-year boom of 2001 to 2005, when the region added 10,800 residents per year on average. This year, regional planners anticipate 9,900 more residents.
“I think it’s a reasonable exercise,” planning consultant Bernie Hermsen said. He finds the new population estimate credible. “Based on the history of the last 20 years, I’ve found that a lot of projections are being realized.”
His caution is that while fertility and mortality can be measured, it’s trickier to estimate economic strength, which draws people to the area. “The real test is economic growth and attraction,” he said. “That’s probably the most difficult judgment call.”
Taxpayers are affected because local governments must by 2018 formally plan for the estimated population. Moving forward, the new, bigger estimate will guide municipal spending on infrastructure including roads, water, sewer and transit. It will also guide council decisions on development and housing.
It will not, however, impact current planning disputes, including a legal showdown over the amount of land needed for housing. Politicians and developers will continue their current battle based on a previous forecast of 729,000 residents by 2031.
Ontario approved the new population estimate in June. It’s based on a report by planning consultants followed by consultation with municipal planners.