Albertans see their economy as 'held hostage' and 'too dependent on oil' — and yet, 'improving slowly'

As we've seen from a recent CBC News poll, the economy is on a lot of Albertans' minds these days. But what, exactly, are they thinking about? Check out these word clouds from focus groups of centrist, right-wing and left-wing voters.

Right-wing, left-wing and centrist Albertans' views vary but, combined, they share a common thread

Alberta went through a rough recession from 2015 to 2017 but, more recently, jobs have been returning and the economic indicators have been improving. How do Albertans view the state of their economy now? (CBC file images)

As we've seen from our ongoing CBC News polling series, the economy is on a lot of Albertans' minds these days.

But what, exactly, are they saying?

We wanted to hear that, in Albertans' own words.

So, in addition to the poll, we conducted three focus groups with voters who self-identify as centrist, right-wing and left-wing.

As part of those focus groups, we asked participants to write down up to five words or phrases that "describe the current state of the Alberta economy."

We then compiled their answers into word clouds — visual representations in which the size of each word represents how frequently it was mentioned.

The word clouds vary — a lot — between the groups.

At the same time, though, there's a common thread that runs through them, across the political spectrum. We'll get to that in a moment.

Let's start by looking at how each group views Alberta's current economic situation.


The most common theme in this middle-of-the road group was that the economy is improving — but slowly.

This was by no means a unanimous view, however, and there was some skepticism expressed, as well, about Alberta's recovery from its recent recession.

While economists — and the government — have been pointing for months to improving economic indicators, people in this group seemed less than convinced about how real or widespread the improvement has been.

The centrists used phrases like "uneven recovery" and "don't believe recovery" in their responses.

The words "struggling" and "polarized" were also frequently used.


The most common sentiment among these more conservative Albertans was that the economy is being "held hostage."

Participants expressed frustration at the impediments other parts of the country — in particular British Columbia — have thrown up when it comes to building new pipelines to better export Alberta oil.

Pipelines were also highlighted as the No. 1 issue facing Alberta in the broader poll CBC News commissioned of people across the province.

This right-wing group also felt Alberta's economy is "slow" and "directionless."

"Market access" was another common phrase among the focus group.

Others included "hampered" and "reduced revenue."


This more progressive group felt most strongly that Alberta's economy is "too dependent on oil."

As a close second, they chose "need diversification" as a key phrase to describe the current economic state.

"Recovering" was a more distant third place in terms of mentions, and it was a mixed bag after that.

Other responses ranged from "pretty good" to "stressed" to "boom and bust" to "PC corruption."

All together

By now you may have noticed the common thread running through the left-wing, right-wing and centrist focus groups.

While each group had a different top phrase to describe Alberta's economy, there was one phrase that was frequently mentioned in all cases.

"Need diversification."

When we put the responses of all participants together, a new word cloud emerges, with that as the dominant phrase.

Take a look at the overall results in this one, final word cloud.

A word cloud generated from three focus groups of self-described left-wing, right-wing and centrist Albertans who were asked to describe the "current state of the Alberta economy" in a few words or phrases. (CBC)

How do these descriptors square with your own view of Alberta's economic situation?

Feel free to weigh in, in the comment section below.

And check out the additional stories in the polling series, which continues all next week as part of our ongoing Calgary: The Road Ahead project.

Calgary: The Road Ahead is CBC Calgary's special focus on our city as we build the city we want — the city we need. It's the place for possibilities, a marketplace of ideas. Have an idea? Email us at:

More from the project:


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