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Temporary foreign workers Thomas Sutton, left, and Alan Williams from England, discuss the job as they work the construction of a new police station in Edmonton.JASON FRANSON/The Globe and Mail

Brighter job prospects in Alberta and more challenging ones in the eastern side of the country are altering the country's population flows.

Alberta saw another year of above-average population growth in 2012-13, driven by record levels of net international migration and interprovincial migration, Monday's preliminary population estimate from Statistics Canada shows.

One province's gains are others' losses. Net interprovincial migration fell to a 32-year low in Ontario, which saw a net outflow. Interprovincial net migration hit a six-year low in the Atlantic provinces and Manitoba, a five-year low in Quebec and an 11-year low in British Columbia. Those shifts come as the country's unemployment rate is below the national average from Manitoba westward, and above the average from Ontario eastward.

Alberta stands out. In the past year, its demographic growth was nearly three times the national average, the federal statistical agency said, noting that the population increase among people aged 30 to 44 – the prime age group for workers – was more than quadruple the national average.

It attributes the surge to a favourable economic climate in the province. The energy industry "has led Alberta's economic growth and job creation, which has translated into a marked increase in the demand for workers," Statscan said.

In the past year, the province's employment and job vacancy rates were among the highest in the country. The boom "has also generated growth in a number of energy-related sectors, service industries and other sectors of the economy in Alberta."

It's a different story elsewhere. Nova Scotia posted an outright population decline, a trend that's been of longstanding concern in the province. (Most workers landing in Alberta came from Ontario, British Columbia and Nova Scotia.)

Immigration flows are also changing. Ontario still receives the most immigrants of any province, but "this trend has tended to diminish in the last few years," the study said.

In the quarter century up until 2008, Ontario was home to, on average, between 44 and 60 per cent of all immigrants to Canada. This past year, that ebbed to 40 per cent – the second-lowest proportion since record-keeping began in 1971. Meanwhile, two provinces in the past year received a record number of immigrants: Quebec (56,000) and Alberta (36,800), and Saskatchewan posted its second-highest number of immigrants (9,800).

Across Canada, more people are willing to move for work, Bank of Montreal noted in a report last week. It noted rising levels of interprovincial migration, with the number of migrants over the past year hitting the highest level in nearly a quarter century. Two main reasons spur people to move from a labour market standpoint, it noted: To find a job or to seek higher-paying work.

It reckons that the most attractive places to move for work are Regina and Calgary, due to higher median levels of employment income, low jobless rates and relatively low tax burdens.

Monday's Statscan report is based on preliminary population estimates for Canada and its provinces and territories at July 1 of this year, so the numbers may be revised. The new estimates are based on 2011 census counts.

Here are some other findings from the Statscan study:

  • International migration remains the key driver of population growth. In 2012-13, net international migration was responsible for two-thirds of Canada’s population increase.
  • Population growth was low in the Atlantic provinces in the past year, with Nova Scotia posting an outright decline of 0.5 per cent, while growth was generally high in the West.
  • Growth in Alberta, Nunavut and Saskatchewan exceeded the national average.
  • Weak growth in the Atlantic provinces stemmed from both low natural increase and losses from interprovincial migration.
  • Only two provinces posted positive net interprovincial migration: Alberta and Saskatchewan.
  • Alberta’s migrants came from Ontario (22,400), British Columbia (11,200), Nova Scotia (4,900) and Quebec (4,200).
  • Immigration levels nationwide surpassed the 250,000 mark for the fourth successive year. The highest immigration rates, relative to population, were in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta.

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