MAC'S MUSINGS: A gypsy could do a better job forecasting growth

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Claude McIntosh

Judging from a slew of previous attempts by hired guns to take a shot at forecasting the city's population over the approaching 20 years, city council could have saved us a lot of money in the latest crystal ball gazing by hiring an unemployed gypsy soothsayer.

According to the latest stab at our population growth, done by Watson & Associates Economists, Cornwall will/should burst through the 50,000 plateau, a milestone of sorts, from its current sluggish 47,900 (sign at west entrance to city pegs the population at 47,000) by 2036. That is an increase of about 185 people each year, hardly a record-setting clip.

For myriad reasons, or excuses, Cornwall has had little growth over the past 40 years, while cities once of comparable size - such as Brantford, Niagara Falls, Welland, Guelph, Kingston - have rushed over the 100,000 mark.

Few years back, the city's population even decreased, albeit ever so slightly.

When it comes to the science of trying to predict Cornwall's down-the-road population, it is somewhat like running a marathon with an hallucinatory finish line, or giving a five-day weather forecast.

When the St. Lawrence Seaway project started back in the mid-1950s, one "expert", in a national magazine article, boasted Cornwall's population would balloon to 100,000 by the 1980s. He missed that one by about 56,000. In the 1980s, a city planner boldly predicted the city's population would be "around" 80,000 by 1999. He missed by a mere 34,000.

Up until now, we've been spinning our tires on population growth.

One factor is that if your son or daughter doesn't land a job in the public sector, they aren't likley to return home after college or university. There really isn't any reason to come "home", unless it is to camp out in the basement.

Few years back the city had hoped to jump start the stagnant population growth by expanding the population at a modest 100 or so souls a year pace.

But there is a gleamer of hope on the horizon. With the factory town image, and its stench, all but gone, the city has become attractive to big city folks looking for a slower pace in their retirement years.

Three years ago a demographic expert predicted that retiring Baby Boomers in places like Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal would be looking at cities with a slower pace. He named Brockville and Cornwall as two of the communities that would be most appealing.

So perhaps the 50,000 figure is attainable. If not sooner than later. Just don't bet the farm on it.

TRIVIA ANSWER Cornwall Commercial College, on Pitt Street just south of First Street, was founded in 1896 in the Snetsinger Block by George A. Smith who served as principal from opening day until 1962, the year before the school closed.

TRIVIA Where in the city was Gonzaga School?

THIS & THAT Does anyone believe that a consultant hired by a city council to study council salaries isn't going to come back with a report saying they deserve more money? These consultants aren't stupid people. They know who has their hands on the taxpayers' money tap and are more than willing to give them a place at the trough. ... After eight years around the council table, Denis Thibault will not seek re-election. His departure will be a big loss. ... The municipal election may be months away (October) but the man in charge of it all, Tom Butkovich, has set up shop at city hall to start laying the groundwork. ... Cornwall native Larry O'Brien, 61, has been named an Ontario Court of Justice judge in Kingston. Before opening a criminal defence practice in Brockville in 1990, he practised law in Toronto. ... There are now cases where folks on fixed incomes have Hydro One bills higher than their grocery bills. ... Bishop Marcel Damphousse expected to shuffle some of his parish priests by end of summer. Problem is he's working with, as they say in hockey, a short bench. All is quiet on the city church closing front but there is speculation one or two parishes could be served by the same priest.

Organizations: Watson Associates Economists, Gonzaga School, Ontario Court Hydro One

Geographic location: Cornwall, Kingston, Niagara Falls Guelph Toronto St. Lawrence Seaway Brockville Ottawa Montreal Pitt Street First Street

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