April 11, 2022

Weekly EconMinute—Alberta bucks intraprovincial migration trends

In this week’s EconMinute, we’re talking about intraprovincial migration.

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Canada is a highly urbanized country with rapidly growing urban populations. Rural populations, too, have continued to grow, just at a slightly slower rate. Despite persistent urbanization (people moving from rural to urban settings), births and international migration have buoyed rural population growth across Canada.

However, in 2018, long-standing urbanization trends reversed, and people started moving away from cities and towns to settle in the rural areas of their province, contributing to even stronger rural population growth. By 2020, intraprovincial migration (migration within the same province) became the primary driver of rural population growth. In 2021, an additional 45,260 people made rural Canada their home, and intraprovincial migration accounted for three of every four new rural residents.

Rural population growth driven by intraprovincial migration is a trend reflected in three of the four major provinces: Ontario, Quebec, and British Columbia (although interprovincial migration is a slightly larger driver in BC). Alberta, however, bucks the trend with a dwindling rural population.

Here’s what the data show:

  • While rural populations in other provinces have continued to grow in recent years, Alberta’s rural population has shrunk over the past five years, losing 6,300 residents since 2017 (3,700 of which were lost last year).
  • Intraprovincial migration is the largest driver of population loss in rural Alberta as most rural migrants moved to Alberta’s urban centres—primarily Cochrane and Airdrie.
  • Rising home prices and cost-of-living expenses in Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver are driving people out of urban centers to rural areas in search of more space and affordable homes in those provinces. Alberta, on the other hand, has largely avoided this affordability crisis thus far.
  • Following the oil price crash in 2014/15, many commercial businesses in rural Alberta closed. And as jobs shifted to the city, so too did Albertans.

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