Rural communities in British Columbia are essential to the province – supplying an abundance of natural resources such as timber, minerals and fish. As Canada’s second largest natural gas producer and the third largest generator of hydro electricity, British Columbia helps drive the Canadian economy.
British Columbia’s landscape is one to be envied, with over 1,030 provincial parks and protected areas that attract over 20 million visitors every year. The province’s stunning mountain ranges, endless forests and vast waters allow for visitors and residents to partake in an abundance of outdoor activities, such as hiking, skiing, snowboarding, canoeing and whale watching.
Land Area, km2
Retail trade, Health Care and Social Assistance, Professional, Scientific and Technical Services
Yet, despite all that these rural areas have to offer, rural British Columbia is declining:
While British Columbia’s urban population grew by 16.89% over 2001-2011, rural and small town population in the province declined by 2.90%.
Population projections for 2011-2025 indicate that British Columbia’s rural population will continue to decline – from 545,894 in 2011 to 479,466 in 2025 – a decline of 12.2%, painting a bleak picture for these communities.
Why is rural British Columbia on the decline?
British Columbia’s population is aging: Low fertility rates and a higher life expectancy is causing the average age of British Columbians to rise, leaving a large gap in the labour force.
Young adults (20-44) are leaving and not returning: Over 35,000 young adults left rural areas in British Columbia between 2001-2011 to pursue post-secondary education or employment opportunities.
Rural British Columbia is not attracting immigrants: Despite a high increase in immigrants in the province, only 5.1% reside in rural areas.
What does this mean for rural British Columbia?
In order for these rural communities to succeed, it is vital that the issues they are facing are made a priority. In order to help retain youth and create more job opportunities, more education and training opportunities need to be available in these areas, as well as to help combat skills shortages. More needs to be done to attract immigrants to these communities as well. As each individual community is different and is facing its own set of challenges, people in communities will need to work together to overcome barriers and become stronger.
Rural British Columbia is facing skills challenges:
The more ‘rural’ an area is, the more the average labour force participation rate declines. The participation rate is 12.1% higher in urban areas than in remote rural areas.
The level of schooling declines as the distance between rural areas and population centres increases. For example, about 39% of British Columbia’s rural remote population does not have a high school diploma.
Strengthening Rural Canada is working to determine if local skills development strategies can lead to economic growth and community resiliency by building a community’s human and social capital.