Low oil prices, COVID-19 predicted to cause dip in migration to Alberta

Calgary Downtown skyline and Centre Street Bridge was photographed on Friday, July 10, 2020. Azin Ghaffari/Postmedia

The throes of a “deteriorating” economy and COVID-19 pandemic are expected to slow down migration to Alberta in the coming years before the numbers stabilize over time, according to Government of Alberta projections.

Provincial data detailing Alberta’s population projections between 2020 and 2046 was released on Friday. Government analysis expects a “significantly lower” net migration compared to the recent past with average annual growth growing by just 0.9 per cent between 2019 and 2020.

“Economic growth stagnated in 2019 due to challenges in the energy sector from transportation bottlenecks and slowing global economic growth. With conditions improving at the end of 2019, there was an expectation of a turnaround in activity and investment,” said the government document.

“However, the dual impact of the drop in oil prices in early 2020 and the COVID-19 pandemic had a negative impact on the economic outlook in the province. As a result, the economy is forecast to contract in 2020 before beginning to recover in 2021.”

They estimate net migration to Alberta will drop to 36,000 from 43,460 last year due to COVID-19 travel restriction. It’s likely to slow even further in 2021 and remain low in 2022.

But officials suggest economic growth will pick up between 2023 and 2027 causing interprovincial migration to trend upward and increase overall immigration levels.

In Calgary, significant declines in employment due to the “global oil price shock” in 2015 and 2016 led to an exodus of interprovincial migrants, however net migration remained positive. It later rebounded but the city is expected to see a slowdown again due to current oil prices.

By 2046, Alberta is forecast to add roughly two million residents reaching 6.3 million by 2046 — represents an average annual growth rate of 1.4 per cent. Growth will be concentrated in urban centres like Calgary and Edmonton.

“In contrast, the projected growth will be lower than the 1.9 (per cent) experienced over the previous 25-year period (1994 to 2019),” said the report. “Alberta’s population is projected to surpass 5.0 million by 2030 and reach the 6.0 million mark by 2042.”

Migration will ultimately depend on the economic situation in Alberta.

As the province continues to attract new residents it will become increasingly diverse. Data suggests people from outside of Canada will account for 54 per cent of the expected growth over time. This will also be relative to federal immigration policies.

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