We’ve talked before about how economic trends play out differently in different parts of our province. With the recession over a year behind us, it’s a good time to see how the recovery has been unfolding and what the “new normal” looks like in different parts of Alberta.
One way to look at this is in terms of population change. Generally speaking, more is better from an economic perspective when it comes population. Population growth is good for retail stores, for construction companies, for house prices and so on.
When we look at Alberta as a whole, our population is growing and -- for an advanced economy like ours -- it’s doing so at a rapid rate. Alberta’s population is 4.3 per cent bigger than it was in 2014. Canada as a whole grew by 3.3 per cent over the same period and Newfoundland grew by only 0.1 per cent. So we are doing pretty good in this sense.
But not everywhere in Alberta is growing at the same rate. Some places are shrinking.
Looking at Alberta communities with at least 1,000 people, population change between 2014 and 2017 ranges from a drop of 25 per cent in Northern Sunrise County (which is near Peace River) to an increase of 30 per cent on the Tsuut’ina Nation reserve next to Calgary. Our two largest cities, Calgary and Edmonton, grew by 4 per cent and 6 per cent, respectively.
The hardest hit communities in terms of population loss are those that rely heavily on nearby oil and gas projects. Lac La Biche County, which shrank by 22 per cent, and the Bonnyville District, which shrank by 12 per cent, are prime examples. For McMurray shrank by 1 per cent.
The end of coal mining has also seen the populations of places like Grande Cache, Hanna and Drumheller contract.
The fastest growing places tend to be either First Nations communities or smaller centres located near larger cities. The population of Nobleford, a bedroom community near Lethbridge, spiked 28 per cent. Chestermere, Cochrane and Airdrie near Calgary, Spruce Grove near Edmonton, and Blackfalds near Red Deer posted growth between 18 and 27 per cent.
We see a similar pattern with employment. Smaller centres dependent on oil, gas and coal have fewer people working today than they did in 2014.
Why does this matter? The good news is that Alberta’s population has been growing and will likely continue to do so. The bad news is that not every community is growing with many of our smaller centres dependent on the energy sector seeing an actual outflow of residents. So even though our GDP is up, oil prices are up and the population as a whole is up, rural areas that depend on fossil fuel extraction are still hurting.
This post is written by guest writer Rob Roach, ATB Financial's Director of Insight.