Alberta’s population is yet again growing faster than any other province in Canada, with more than 17,000 people moving from other parts of the country from July to September, according to the latest numbers from Statistics Canada.
The migration is largely from Ontario and B.C., which have been experiencing a loss in population for more than a year. In contrast, interprovincial migration to Alberta has been rising by 10,000 or more people for five consecutive quarters — a first since such data began being recorded.
The main driver for the rise in the number of people is non-permanent immigration, which surged by 10,638 in the third quarter.The trend is also observed across Canada, where the total number of non-permanent residents climbed to 2,511,437 from 2,198,679 — the greatest quarterly boost going back to 1971, when data on non-permanent residents became available.
“The gain in non-permanent residents was mostly due to an increase in the number of work and study permit holders and, to a lesser extent, an increase in the number of refugee claimants,” the report stated.
The news comes as Alberta shutters its Alberta Calling campaign, which the UCP government launched in August 2022 as a way to attract newcomers by boasting of “bigger paycheques” and “smaller rent cheques.”
A second round of the campaign was reintroduced in March before the announcement to end the program was made during a telephone town hall last week about the upcoming provincial budget, where Finance Minister Nate Horner called the campaign a success.
“We think Alberta called and many, many answered, but it has taken up a lot of the vacancies,” Horner said. “The housing market’s very tight.”
Population growth impacting housing affordability
Experts have been warning that the strong pace of population growth in Canada is eroding housing affordability, given the country has struggled to ramp up home construction.
The strong population growth is also posing a political risk for the federal Liberals, who have seen their popularity tank amid affordability concerns.
Earlier this month, Bank of Canada deputy governor Toni Gravelle gave a speech on the effect of immigration on the economy and inflation in particular.
Gravelle acknowledged there are many benefits from this rise in immigration, noting it has helped grow the economy, expand the workforce and counteract an aging population.
“This jump in demographic demand coupled with the existing structural supply issues could explain why rent inflation continues to climb in Canada. It also helps explain, in part, why housing prices have not fallen as much as we had expected,” Gravelle told the Windsor-Essex Regional Chamber of Commerce.
The sentiment was shared by Frano Cavar, the director of government relations at the Calgary Construction Association, who said the issue of rapid population growth is a “catch-22”, where immigration helped inject 13,000 jobs into the industry last year but also strained existing infrastructure.
“You do need immigrants, certainly to fill the (labour) gap right now,” Cavar said. “But more increasingly, immigration increases the infrastructure demand. And the question is, are we able to find a balance?”
‘Big swings of boom-bust’ typical for Alberta: professor
However, drastic swings in population are baked into Alberta’s economic cycle, said Duane Bratt, a political science professor at Mount Royal University.
That includes housing, health care and schools. But despite record-breaking population growth and reports of people choosing Alberta for cheaper housing prices, Bratt said the rise, which accelerated in 2022, is linked to a hike in oil prices — which touched $91 per barrel in February of last year.
As the search for ways to tame population growth continues, Bratt said he finds it difficult to reconcile the conversation around reduced immigration by federal conservatives and Premier Danielle Smith’s ambition to roughly double the province’s population from 4.7 million to 10 million by 2050.
“How do you go from four and a half to 10 million in a couple of decades, if you don’t have immigration into Alberta?”
Even then, immigration is a federal mandate that cannot be controlled by the province.
“Once an immigrant comes into, let’s say, Toronto or Halifax, because of the charter, they have mobility rights, so they could still end up in Alberta.”