Why Alberta still has the fastest-growing population in Canada

Alberta's population grew at the fastest clip in Canada in the first three months of the year. This despite a persistent recession and weak job market. What's been going on?

Babies, immigrants, and high wages help explain the growth

Alberta's population grew at the fastest rate in Canada in the first quarter of 2016. (Larry MacDougal/The Canadian Press)

Alberta's recession is into its second year, but the province still has the fastest-growing population in the country, according to Statistics Canada. 

In the first three months of 2016, Alberta's population grew by 0.4 per cent, faster than Canada as a whole and any other individual province. Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Ontario were just behind Alberta, with growth between 0.3 and 0.4 per cent.

So, what's going on?


That 0.4 per cent adds up to 17,883 people.
Fifteen per cent of the babies born in Canada in the first quarter were in Alberta.

More than a third of that was natural growth, meaning babies. Alberta's population skews young, meaning there are more young people to have children. There were 14,240 babies born in the province, 15 per cent of the total babies born in Canada  over that period. Alberta has roughly 11 per cent of Canada's population.

In British Columbia, with a slightly larger population than Alberta, there were only 10,800 births. On the flip side, because there are proportionally fewer seniors in Alberta, there were also fewer deaths. B.C had 9,384 deaths in the quarter, while Alberta had just 6,619.


The largest factor in  Alberta's population growth came from immigrants arriving from outside the country. That also accounted for much of Canada's population growth over the period.  
Immigrants made up the largest portion of both Canada and Alberta's population growth in the first quarter of 2016 (CBC)

Statistics Canada said that Canada saw its largest influx ever of international immigrants in the quarter, 86,216, a large number of whom were Syrian refugees.

Alberta's share of that number was 12,050, or nearly 14 per cent of the total. 

But Albertans were also leaving

As of the last quarter of 2015, more Albertans were moving to other parts of Canada than were moving into the province. That trend continued in the first part of 2016, with a net 1,788 people leaving the province for other parts of Canada. That's consistent with trends in other recessions. Alberta lost people to other parts of the country during the 2008-09 recession and saw seven years of out-migration in the 1980s oil slump.
Ontario and B.C. were the biggest recipients of Albertans leaving the province in the first quarter of 2016. (Statistics Canada)

British Columbia was the largest recipient of Albertans in the quarter, with more than 7,000 moving one province west.

"So, we have a lot of people coming in and a lot of people moving out," said Trevor Tombe, an economist with the University of Calgary.

It may seem counter-intuitive that Alberta is continuing to grow at a decent clip, but the province is still holding on to some of its pre-recession perks. The average weekly wage is still the highest in the country, and many parts of the economy are still chugging away.

"There are a lot of things working in Alberta's favour," said Tombe.


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