Saskatoon outpaces all metro areas in Canada

Thorvaldson building located on the main campu...Image via WikipediaBY DAVID HUTTON, THE STARPHOENIX

Saskatoon is growing faster and aging more slowly than any other major Canadian city.
The latest population estimates released Thursday by Statistics Canada reveal the Saskatoon region was the fastest-growing metropolitan area in Canada for the one-year period ending in July 2010, surpassing Alberta's major centres in growth for the first time in decades.
The Saskatoon region is also the youngest in the country, bucking the pan-Canadian trend of a rapidly aging population.
But the changing demographics pose "huge challenges" for the city and raise difficult questions about the young aboriginal workforce, a prominent economist says.
"You have this young aboriginal population that on average is not very well off and on average not very well educated," said Eric Howe, a University of Saskatchewan economics professor. "If we do not do something about that, the wheels are going to fall off. The aboriginal population absolutely has to be brought into the economic mainstream."
Led by a booming aboriginal population and a major spike in international immigration driven by the province's expedited application program, the Saskatoon region, which includes bedroom communities such as Warman, Martensville, Dundurn and Dalmeny, has now passed the 265,000 population mark, a three per cent jump and a net increase of more than 7,200 people in one year.
Regina was third in the country in growth, behind Vancouver in second spot. The Regina region now has 215,000 people, an increase of close to 5,000 from the previous year.
The main reason for Saskatoon's rapid growth is an increase in international immigration, Statistics Canada reports.
More than 3,300 immigrants moved to Saskatoon during the year covered by the report, with the Philippines, China and Ukraine as the leading countries of origin. International immigration to Saskatoon is higher in sheer numbers than major Canadian cities such as Hamilton and Quebec City, which have historically attracted far more immigrants than all of Saskatchewan, Statistics Canada reports.
The immigration boom can be felt at the many drop-in programs run by the city's settlement agencies.
Petrio Dobushovskyy, 42, moved from Ukraine earlier this month with his wife, Oksana, and his two sons, Yaroslav, 16, and Ivan, 10, and is living in his brother's home until he finds work. On Thursday, he took part in an informal conversations session at Global Gathering Place, a non-profit drop-in centre downtown that was abuzz Thursday afternoon.
A computer programmer, Dobushovskyy is attempting to strengthen his English so he can boost his chances of landing a job. Otherwise, he says he may return to Ukraine. He's considering applying for labour work as an interim measure.
"I want my sons to learn English and go to university here," he said.
Many newcomers have been filling vacancies in entry-level jobs, primarily in the service sector, despite many having experience and credentials in medicine or engineering.
That's creating a dilemma for policy-makers because it's one of the main ways young aboriginal people can break into the labour market, Howe said.
"Many aboriginal people are coming off of three generations of welfare dependency and need entry-level jobs. If you give entrylevel jobs to someone else, they're not going to get them. Finding jobs for new immigrants is important, but it's also very important that we have entry-level jobs for young aboriginal people. That's where they're going to work if they're going to work, at least at first," he said.
The statistics on age revealed in the report are the most startling.
As the average age across Canada has jumped, Saskatoon's and Regina's average age has increased only slightly. High birth rates among the aboriginal population and the arrival of young families migrating from outside the country are cited as the main reasons Saskatchewan stayed young relative to the rest of Canada.
Saskatoon's average age is 35.6, Statistics Canada says, less than a year older than it was in 2001. The average age in Canada has increased 2.5 years to almost 40 since that time, while Saguenay, Que., has jumped more than 5.5 years to an average age of 45 and now ranks as the oldest metropolitan area in Canada.
The aboriginal population will make up 25 per cent of the 20 to 30 age group in Saskatoon in five years, Howe projects, and finding policies aimed at that group is the province's "defining problem," he said.
"There's nothing wrong in Saskatoon that can't be cured by what's right in Saskatoon," he said.
"But we'll have to work at it."

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