If you’ve been on the subway in Toronto recently, or at a bus stop in Vancouver, you may have seen posters trying to lure you to the fine province of Alberta.
“What did the Albertan say to the Torontonian? You’re hired,” goes one. “Bigger pay cheques. Smaller rent cheques,” says another. Many highlight the cheap cost of housing.
Premier Jason Kenney is fronting the campaign, dubbed “Alberta Is Calling,” and was in Toronto recently trying to drum up interest in his province, especially among young people.
“You can sell a $1.2-million house in, let’s say, Mississauga,” he told the Toronto Sun. “You can move to suburban Calgary for the same type of house for $400,000. You can pocket the difference, live mortgage-free, and pay lower taxes.”
Mr. Kenney says his government has run the numbers and determined that someone making $125,000 a year living in the Greater Toronto Area can move to Calgary and, after 10 years living in the same type of house and making the same type of money, would be $400,000 better off.
I’m sure there would be many who would dispute this, but this math is central to the Premier’s pitch.
There is a case to be made, however, that Mr. Kenney’s pitch is rather timely, as frustration over the high cost of housing in Canada has never been greater. Recently released census data shows that the country’s homeownership rate dropped to 66.5 per cent last year – the lowest level since the turn of the century.
It’s young people, in particular, whose participation rates in the market are declining noticeably. The rate for those aged 25 to 29 was 36.5 per cent last year, compared with 44.1 per cent in 2011. For those in their early 30s, the rate was 52.3 per cent, compared with almost 60 per cent 10 years earlier.
Once upon a time, Alberta didn’t need a pricey ad campaign to entice young people to come and work there. There was a surge of 20-somethings that arrived in the late 70s and early 1980s, for the plethora of opportunities that Alberta offered. This cohort stayed and created enormous wealth, for the province and for themselves.
Young people kept on coming over the years, mostly to make big bucks in the oil industry.
Lately, however, it’s been a different story. Young people haven’t been landing in Alberta to start a life; they’ve been fleeing the province instead. And that’s not a great look for a government trying to persuade those in this demographic to leave places like Vancouver and Toronto for Calgary and Edmonton.
A report by the Canada West Foundation (CWF) released this past spring found that between 2017 and 2021, Alberta’s net out-migration of people between the ages of 25 and 29 each year was 1,133. In 2020, meantime, Calgary ranked 29th out of 35 metropolitan areas in the country in terms of the percentage of residents aged 20 to 24.
What is happening?
Alberta has a reputation problem.
According to the CWF report, many young people are leaving because the province lacks vibrancy and diversity. It is also often negatively associated with intolerance. The pandemic did nothing to soften this image.
Alberta became ground zero for the anti-vaxxer movement. Many of the so-called Freedom Convoy folks who squatted in downtown Ottawa earlier this year hailed from the province. There are right-wing extremists in all parts of the country, but it seems Alberta has a greater share.
If you’re a young person in the health care field, Alberta isn’t the most welcoming place, either. The current government has been at war with doctors and nurses seemingly for years. Some of the candidates in the United Conservative Party leadership race are talking about disruptive changes to the health care system, which portends more chaos and instability.
Those with even a passing interest in Alberta politics might wonder why anyone would move to the province with so much uncertainty looming. The presumptive front-runner to be the next Alberta Premier, Danielle Smith, is running a pretty radical leadership campaign with some genuinely wacky ideas at the centre of it – including a proposed “Sovereignty Act” that Premier Kenney has likened to a “separatist project.”
“To the contrary, instead of being able to attract people, we would start hemorrhaging people,” Mr. Kenney said of Ms. Smith’s proposed plan to ignore federal edicts she determines are not in Alberta’s best interests.
While Alberta has lots to offer young people, this is perhaps not the best time to be launching a campaign to attract them.
Right now, if Jason Kenney calls, think twice before answering.