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Alberta's population growth is breaking records, but signs of strain are showing



Calgary's Centre for Newcomers, overseen by Chief Program Officer Kelly Ernst, is experiencing an overwhelming surge in demand, with staff finding themselves stretched thin. Last year, this non-profit served a staggering 50,000 clients, marking a remarkable increase from previous years, particularly before the pandemic. Ernst noted that the numbers have more than doubled compared to the previous year and have tripled over the past five years, with some services seeing a fourfold increase over just two years.


This surge in demand reflects Alberta's unprecedented population growth, which, while bringing opportunities, also presents challenges.


In 2023, Alberta witnessed its population swell by 202,324 residents, reaching 4.8 million, according to Statistics Canada. This surge, the largest in Alberta's history, equates to approximately 550 people relocating to the province daily. While much of this growth stems from international migration, Alberta also set a national record for interprovincial migration, gaining 55,107 people net from other provinces, with Ontario and British Columbia contributing the most migrants.


While Alberta has historically experienced sudden population booms due to its oil and gas industry, the current situation differs significantly. Mark Parsons, Chief Economist for ATB Financial, emphasizes that while a robust economy is attracting people to the province, affordability, particularly in housing, is playing a crucial role.


The allure of Alberta's relatively affordable real estate, especially compared to cities like Toronto and Vancouver, has been a driving force behind the influx of migrants. The Alberta government's "Alberta is Calling" campaign, highlighting high salaries and lower housing costs, successfully attracted many from regions struggling with housing affordability.


However, this population boom has its downsides. Despite initially being seen as an opportunity, the surge in residents has exacerbated housing affordability issues. Dawn Herron Maser, a real estate agent in Calgary, notes that what was once perceived as a bargain is now becoming increasingly unaffordable for locals. Calgary's benchmark home price in March rose to $597,600, nearly 11% higher than the previous year, leading to fierce bidding wars reminiscent of hotter markets like Toronto and Vancouver.


Rental prices have also skyrocketed, with Calgary and Edmonton witnessing the sharpest acceleration among major Canadian cities in 2023. This rapid growth in population has strained infrastructure and public services. Schools are grappling with overcrowding, and the shortage of skilled workers in construction and other trades is hindering the province's ability to meet the demands of its growing population.


Despite expectations for population growth to moderate in the coming years, Alberta's economy is diversifying, offering opportunities beyond the traditional oil and gas sectors. However, both provincial and federal governments must invest in housing, infrastructure, and education to accommodate this growth responsibly.


As Alberta continues to attract newcomers, it must address the challenges posed by rapid expansion to ensure a high quality of life for all residents. By proactively tackling issues such as housing affordability and infrastructure strain, Alberta can navigate its growth trajectory more sustainably, ensuring its continued success without compromising its residents' well-being.


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