As the largest business organization on the Saanich Peninsula, we are appropriately the lightning rod for opinions about development in the region. We have heard dismay expressed about the pace and density of development approvals in Sidney, and contrarily, about the dearth of development in North Saanich. If a lack of engagement is any indication, Central Saanich residents would appear to be comfortable with what is developing in their community.
VIHA community health statistics from 2013 indicate that 14% of our population currently is aged 75 and over and they predict that the over 75 population will increase 79% by the year 2034. Compared to the rest of the Island Health region, our residents also have a higher life expectancy.
This is good news for certain sectors of our economy and community. The businesses which support seniors will thrive. Seniors contribute to the well-being of communities by paying taxes, by making more charitable donations than any other age group, by providing care and home maintenance for spouses and friends, by supporting the arts and volunteering. Our Visitor Centres would not function without our volunteers. Seniors are engaged citizens and are passionate about this community.
One of the economic impacts of having a proportionally large senior population as reported by retailers on Beacon Ave., is that the senior demographic does not contribute appreciably to their sales figures. We can also not expect to see the growing ranks of seniors setting up businesses in the vacant office and retail spaces that exist in Sidney.
Municipalities are increasingly challenged to provide new services to meet community needs without unduly burdening seniors on fixed incomes or commercial entities which are also struggling under their tax load. How, without growth, can we hope to maintain current infrastructure which includes schools facing declining enrollment, an aging fire hall and the decrepit Beacon Wharf in Sidney?
One answer is to attract families to the Saanich Peninsula. A broader tax mix would give more flexibility to meet local economic and expenditure needs. Our great competitive opportunity is that each day, thousands of workers, who live in other areas of Greater Victoria, commute to their well-paying jobs in the Sidney/North Saanich and Keating X industrial areas. If those workers could find homes and live in our communities, enrollment in schools would increase, existing businesses would enjoy more local support, new businesses would open and more sufficient revenues would be generated for the municipalities.
Municipal councillors are tasked with making decisions that consider the long-term sustainability of their communities while under consistent pressure to do more with less. Growth is necessary and prudent and can be fairly easily achieved through increased density in the areas identified within the Official Community Plan. Growth is change and change can be uncomfortable but it is unavoidable.