Kelowna won’t be wiped out by silver tsunami

Statistics Canada released figures Tuesday, placing the Central Okanagan’s population third oldest in the country.

Kelowna’s silver tsunami is building.

Statistics Canada released figures Tuesday, placing the Central Okanagan’s population third oldest in the country, with 19.2 per cent being over the age of 65. It’s an increase of 11.7 per cent over the previous census period.

Data showing that Kelowna is slowly but surely becoming a city of retirees, however, isn’t new.

It was named the oldest Canadian census metropolitan area in 2006, and that launched local governments into action.

With fears the aging population could grind the local economy to a halt, efforts were made to “soften” the impact, explained Corie Griffiths, business development officer for the Central Okanagan Economic Development Commission.

Initially, the commission worked to help local business retain a foothold in the economy, as a means to ensure further job growth.

In recent years they’ve made concerted efforts to recruit entrepreneurs and young families to the valley, as a means to create demographic balance.

“Why wouldn’t someone want to choose the greater Kelowna area?” she said, listing lifestyle benefits, health care and options for post-secondary education among some of the region’s highlights

That said, countries across the world are in a race to lure that same demographic to their lagging economic regions, pushing members of the commission to take their message across the globe to various trade shows.

So far,  they’ve brought numerous entrepreneurs to the area, spurring new economic growth.

“One example that’s been in the media lately is GioBean,” said Griffiths.

Griffiths met the popular Water Street coffee shop owner in England on a trip to promote B.C. in 2008, and gave him the tools to come to B.C. and plant roots.

“The rest is history and a success story,” she said.

Although much of the media focus is on problems after the census report on aging is released, Griffiths also pointed out that there are opportunities.

Those include chances for research and development into senior care as well as more opportunities for health care providers.

The good news story of an aging population is something that gained the attention of Mary Ann Murphy, UBC Okanagan associate professor, cross appointment on aging.

“We need to think about how we pay for certain costs (associated with an aging society) but this is a demographic achievement,” she said. “We are privileged to live 15 years longer than the global life expectancy.”

The shift in population is due in part to a slowing birth rate and extended life expectancy, Murphy explained, noting that life expectancy in B.C. is 81, and in the Okanagan it’s 82.

“This longevity is unprecedented. We have doubled the seniors we had in 1981,” she said.

And, she said, surveys say the senior years are the good ones.

“Canadian data shows you’re happiest over 70,” she said.

“This generation contributes, are creative and they learn. They’re interested in far more than lawn bowling. Also 75 to 90 per cent of Canadian seniors vote.”

That active population needs to be addressed differently than they are currently, she said.

“What can we do at community level to have our senior adults help older Canadians?” she said.

“Right now we have the children of the ’60s heading into retirement and they’re used to getting what they want. They’re independent, reject the notion to winding down and I look to them to solve some of the issues of an aging population.

“The more interesting story here is what will they contribute.”

The answer to Murphy’s question shouldn’t be too far in the offing. The statistic agency reported Tuesday that within two decades, it’s expected that 22.8 per cent of Canadians will be 65 and older.

Last year, as the first wave of baby boomers reached that milestone, making the total number of seniors five million, out of the 33.5 million total population.

On the oldest end of the scale,  5,825 Canadians  reached their 100th birthday and the number is projected to steadily rise to 78,300 in the next 50 years.