January 13, 2021

Alberta’s economy continues to struggle on a long and bumpy road of recovery

We know there is so much economic data and information out there, and that you want a way to see it all in a snapshot with a view looking forward and not just back. That’s why we created the Alberta Snapshot, a quarterly executive summary that helps you keep the pulse on what is happening in Alberta’s economy—the good, bad, and urgent.

We use a wide and diverse range of indicators including data on jobs, consumer spending and debt, business openings and closings, population growth, economic forecasts, and more to assess and synthesize economic activity, business conditions, and social well-being in a way that is meaningful to Albertans and Alberta businesses.


Alberta Snapshot Winter 2021—Key Insights

The Alberta economy continues to struggle along the long and bumpy road to recovery. Labour market conditions deteriorated in the last two months of 2020, even before the most recent shutdown took place, and Alberta is falling behind provinces. Our job recovery is lagging Canada overall, unemployment remains high, and Albertans are more likely than other Canadians to be experiencing prolonged stretches of joblessness.

Additionally, there are some other concerning signs for the province’s economic recovery: an uptick in bankruptcies, weakness in new manufacturing orders and capital investment, and a steep decline in immigration which has been an economic growth driver across Canada. Many of these impacts may be magnified by restrictions in response to high COVID cases implemented in December.

The silver lining is that Albertans remain resilient and are showing confidence in their future outlook. Consumer spending remains strong, more businesses are opening than are closing, and our latest Business Expectations Survey shows an improved outlook for business investment.

Economic recovery will not be easy but is within reach through speedy vaccination, continued support for businesses and individuals, and renewed investment in lost physical and human capital. The good news is vaccine rollouts have already begun and, while we have concerns that Canada may lag the U.S. and other countries in achieving herd immunity, the province and the country as a whole are taking action to accelerate vaccine availability for the general public. This will allow Alberta to begin the long process of rebuilding the economy, restoring capital investment and getting people back to work.

Report Highlights:

As of December, Alberta’s unemployment rate was the second highest in Canada at 11.0%, and most of Alberta’s unemployed have been out of work for three months or longer (51%)—this is the largest share of all the provinces. This is indicative of a weak economy before COVID and a steeper impact from the pandemic.

Retail spending in the province was up from October, but a dip in new manufacturing orders and an uptick in bankruptcies provide some cause for concern in recovery.

Economic forecasts for 2021 move in tandem with virus management and vaccination. This underscores the importance of efforts by provincial and federal governments to accelerate vaccine supply and vaccination programs.

Some forward-looking signals are more positive: our recent Alberta Business Expectations Survey shows more businesses expect to increase spending on machinery and equipment, which is a key leading indicator for economic growth.

If you would like to use this report in a publication, please use the following citation.

Business Council of Alberta. Winter 2021.
Alberta Snapshot: A Quarterly Economic Update for Alberta.

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