Four decades have passed since Burlington became a city and the most influential municipality in the Region of Halton.
But according to the Social Profile of Halton Region 2014 report, published by Community Development Halton, that position of power is slowly slipping away as a result of major demographic changes.
The report says Oakville already has surpassed Burlington in population and, incredibly, by the year 2026 Milton will become number two on the list, pushing Burlington to third place.
Burlington Council has decided to limit residential growth in the north, preferring to maintain the rural landscape.
The population growth of Milton, which now has 103,000 residents, is phenomenal. In fact, what used to be just a little town of about 10,000 on Hwy. 401 in the middle of Halton has become the fastest growing community in Canada.
Between 2001 and 2006, the town’s population increased by 71.4 per cent. The growth rate between 2006 and 2011 is less than that between 2001 and 2006 but still at an impressive rate of 56.5 per cent. Overall, Milton has seen growth of 168 per cent or 52,891 persons in a decade. This accounted for almost 50 per cent of the region’s population growth.
Milton has the highest proportion (72 per cent) of people who commute to work in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), compared to 62 per cent for Burlington.
Traditionally, Halton’s immigrants came from Europe, but the report points out that 66 per cent of recent arrives have come from South Asia, Latin America or the Philippines.
Joey Edwardh, executive director of Community Development Halton, said demographic changes bring with them challenges of how to build the common good.
“How do we include new members of the community from other backgrounds, what social services do we need?” she said. “We also have to look at how we can build inclusive communities where all of us are active, participating members and how to create communities that are age-friendly.”
In 1990 Burlington city manager Michael Fenn predicted new immigrants would also be coming from communities to the east and would continue to look in that direction when services were not available in Burlington.
Twenty-five years later Halton has a strong multicultural council, which offers settlement programs, a labor market access program and language instruction.
One in six of Burlington’s 175,779 residents is a senior citizen and 30 per cent of them are over the age of 80, while, as of 2011, the median age in Milton was 34.1 years, compared to Burlington at 41.8.
In Burlington, one in four households is occupied by one person and one in 10 residents live alone. However , this is not the case in Milton, where less than five per cent of its residents live alone.
When the Region of Halton was launched on Jan. 1, 1974, there were several opponents to the provincial government-imposed system of government that replaced the old one consisting of a Halton County Council, chaired by a warden.
One of the most outspoken was then Burlington mayor George Harrington.
“I feel it was a colossal mistake,” he said at the time. “The average person doesn’t realize what a large bureaucracy they’re paying for. There really was no financial advantage to Burlington.”
But Oakville’s Allan Masson, who was appointed the Region’s first chairman, begged critics to give regional government a chance. He said people were more aware of regional government than they ever were of the county system.
There was a long debate about whether Burlington should remain with Halton or Peel, or join the new Region of Hamilton-Wentworth.
However, Burlington voters expressed strong feelings on the issue during a 1969 plebiscite in which 17,377 expressed a preference for joining Peel County in a new Halton-Peel Region and only 2,368 for throwing the city’s lot in with Hamilton. That idea was later dropped in favor of a single region of Halton.
Halton’s population grew more than twice the provincial growth rate between 2001 and 2011. Over 40 per cent of the increase came from Milton.
The report also said that between 2006 and 2011 Halton is the second fastest growing region in the GTA, trailing only York Region.