Population keeps growing
Number of young Northerners creating conundrums

by Marty Brown
Northern News Services

NNSL (Feb 03/97) - The North is the fastest growing part of Canada. Lately more and more adults are moving out, but they are being replaced by babies - lots of babies.

In 1993 the population of the Northwest Territories was 64,021. By 1995 it had grown to 65,407. Even with hundreds of people moving away every year coupled with a natural attrition rate, the population continues to increase.

In 1995, Statistics Canada counted 1,580 live births here. And by the first nine months of 1996, 1,160 more live births hit the books.

What does a young population mean to the NWT? Fewer taxpayers as a proportion of the entire population, a need for more schools, fewer employed and longer lineups at baby clinics.

In 1991 -- the latest year for which Northern records are available -- 33 per cent of the NWT's population was 14 years or younger. Compare that with 19 per cent of the population in the rest of the country (as of 1995).

Although the number of young people on social assistance is rising, Dana Heide, manager of the territorial income support department, said he's not discouraged.

"The average age of people on income support is under 25 with below-Grade 9 education," said Heide.

Before a recent restructuring in the department, welfare dollars went to maintain people in poverty. Now the aim is to support people helping themselves, either through job training or education, Heide said.

A young population affects education budgets, though. Children by law have to go to school and that means more schools and more teachers.

Eric Colbourne, assistant deputy minister of education development, said there's been a near five-per-cent increase in student populations every year for the past few years.

"That means upwards of 80 new teachers a year. In times of financial restraints we have to come up with other strategies," he said.

Because educators are aiming to implement Grade 12 in all 58 territorial communities by the year 2000, some things will have to change. There are high schools in 43 communities now.

Those changes lie in innovative thinking, Colbourne said, and electronic, computer-aided distance education could be where it's at.