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COLUMN: Alberta on pace to hit population milestone

The most telling statistic of all is the number of fellow Canadians who are making Alberta their new home.
Nelson Chris web

Do I hear five million? You better believe it, because the express train that is Alberta’s growing population shows no sign of slowing any time soon. 

The recently released official data notes that last year alone the population here in Wild Rose land grew by a quite remarkable 202,324 people; an eye-watering 4.4 per cent rate of annual increase. (The next highest among the four larger population provinces was Ontario, with a somewhat less than eye-catching jump of 3.4 per cent.) 

Meanwhile, every indication from the first quarter of the current year shows this veritable flood of newcomers is somehow managing to surge even higher. 

So, with the population of Alberta standing at 4,800,768 on New Year’s Day, it looks odds on we’ll hit that magic five million mark before we’re once again linking arms and merrily singing Auld Lang Syne

Where are these people coming from, anyway? Everywhere would be the simple answer, with record numbers of international immigrants arriving alongside overseas students and temporary workers. Oh, and our birthrate is higher than anywhere else in Canada as well. 

Yet perhaps the most telling statistic of all is the number of fellow Canadians who are making this their new home. Every single province saw a population deficit with Alberta — more folk leaving for our province than arrived from it — making 2023 stand out as the biggest such influx recorded since we started keeping these numbers more than 60 years ago. 

And why are they coming? For opportunity and the chance of a better life. That Alberta stands out as a beacon for such aspirations speaks volumes because the voting that people do with their feet is the most telling measure of success or failure when it comes to judging any location. 

Not that long ago, when energy prices were in the doldrums and many international oil companies had picked up sticks and fled in the face of constant criticism about their involvement in oilsands development, the tall foreheads in sections of the media and academia pronounced Alberta was becoming an outcast, with Canadians leaving for more culturally appropriate parts of this great country. And yes, for a few short years there was a small net outflow of folk from our province. But it didn’t last long. 

Not surprisingly, that particular peanut gallery of naysayers is noticeable by its silence these days. No doubt they’ll be back when things invariably turn for the worse, but for now at least, such quiet is heartily refreshing. 

Of course, today’s massive jump in the number of people arriving here comes with headaches, some of them quite worrisome and many crying out for urgent action. 

Health care across the province is already stretched, while the school system is currently bulging at its seams in accommodating those recently arrived new pupils. Meanwhile, house prices and rents are skyrocketing, as all these newcomers hunt for a place of their own. 

These will be the biggest challenges in the year ahead for the current provincial government alongside the mayors, councils and school boards of Alberta’s larger cities, where most of these newcomers are headed. The word “crisis” will be bandied about with glee from those self-anointed experts who never saw a glass that wasn’t half empty. 

But this is boom-and-bust country, folks. We couldn’t turn into Manitoba even if we wanted to. So, let’s ride the bull as long as we can, because sooner or later we’ll be thrown for a loop yet again. 

Five million Albertans! Fancy that. Is it any wonder Prime Minister Justin Trudeau looks so glum these days? 

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