It’s never pretty when siblings fight. Oh the uproar a few weeks ago when Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty threw Alberta under the economic bus! Paraphrasing, he suggested that Ontario’s economy would be doing much better if it wasn’t for Alberta’s booming oilsands industry, which (because of high oil prices) was driving up the value of the Canadian dollar. He didn’t stop there. If he had to choose between a thriving energy economy in Canada and a low dollar to prop up Ontario’s manufacturing rust belt, he’d choose the latter.
But figures released this week from Statistics Canada suggest that Ontario should actually be quite thankful for Alberta’s booming economy. And Alberta has 206,000 reasons to thank Ontario, too.
When we think of transplanted Albertans arriving from elsewhere in the country, we automatically think of Saskatchewan, or maybe Newfoundland and Labrador. Those provinces have certainly contributed their share of workers, but many of the Newfoundlanders working in Fort McMurray remain resident on “The Rock” (more or less commuting back and forth to northern Alberta for weeks at a time). And our twin sister Saskatchewan has traditionally done its part to boost Alberta’s labour pool; yet now that province’s economy is experiencing its own economic boom and fewer are leaving.
It turns out that Ontario has contributed more to the growth of Alberta’s population than any other province. Over the last ten years, nearly 206,000 people from Ontario have moved to Alberta—about the size of three Red Deers. More people moved to Alberta than currently live in Windsor, Ontario! Plenty of Albertans have moved in the opposite direction (122,596 to be precise). Still, on a net basis, Ontario has boosted Alberta’s population by 82,952. Saskatchewan contributed a net of 23,000 folks, and Newfoundland only 17,000.
Ontario can hardly complain about a shrinking population. During the past decade it has accounted for by far the largest share of international migration. Its overall population has increased by 12.2% over the past ten years, higher than the national average of 11.2%. Newfoundland and Labrador’s population has fallen 2%, and the other Atlantic provinces are essentially unchanged. Provinces struggling to hold on to their existing populations may have reason to gripe. Yet it wasn’t the Premier of New Brunswick calling down Alberta last week.
The fact that 206,000 people moved from Ontario to Alberta over the past decade has to do with one thing: jobs. A strong energy economy, particularly in the oilsands, has boosted employment in Alberta tremendously. And despite a sudden but short halt during 2009-10, overall employment in the province has provided fantastic work opportunities for hundreds of thousands of Canadians.
Consider the 206,000 people who migrated from Ontario to Alberta. If we assume that roughly 50,000 of these would be children not of working age, that means some 150,000 adults left Ontario because they were without work (or at very least, had a better opportunity in Alberta). If those 150,000 job seekers had stayed put in Ontario, the overall unemployment rate in that province would be 9.7%—much higher than the 7.6% reported in February.
Shouldn’t Ontario be cheering on Alberta’s job creating machine?
This is the advantage of living in a large country like Canada with guarantees for its citizens to move about freely and take work where it is available. In the 1980s, thousands of Albertans were leaving for the same reason (many of them to the factory floors of southern Ontario). Now the tides have once again reversed. Why do provinces and their political leaders attack each other and their respective regions? We should be doing everything we can to build each other up, since labour mobility between provinces and regions works distinctly in favour of the national economy.
Thanks for the 206,000 new Albertans, Mr. McGuinty. They are greatly appreciated. We know you’re very sad to see them leave, just as we were sad in 1980. But everyone is better off if Canadians are working, regardless of where in the country they find that work. Alberta is better off. Ontario is better off. Ottawa is happy with the income tax revenue, and glad to be paying fewer E.I. benefits. We should be the happiest country on the planet—yet with comments like yours, no one would guess.