As Alberta campaigns to attract workers, economists say competition is healthy



When Zeel Shah’s partner left Toronto for a job in Edmonton in 2018, the young couple had to decide which city offered the future they wanted for themselves.

Shah, now 28, says she and Deep Cheema compared the life they could have in Toronto and Edmonton and concluded their homeownership goals were more attainable out west.

“We wanted to settle down eventually,” she said. « As a first house, we didn’t want to spend a million dollars. »

A year after Cheema’s move, Shah joined him in the much colder and less populated city. In 2021, the couple bought their first home – a townhouse – together in Edmonton.

Shah says in hindsight, moving to Alberta was the right decision for their family of three.

Alberta is currently vying to attract more young people like Shah and Cheema, and economists say it’s a good thing for provinces to compete for workers.

With labor shortages widespread across the country, the Western Province is targeting residents of Canada’s most expensive cities in a campaign to attract workers, making a speech on affordability it hopes that it will be too difficult to resist.

“What did the Albertan say to the Torontonian? You’re hired,” reads one of the Alberta ads in a downtown Toronto subway station.

“Find things you wouldn’t expect. Like an affordable home,” reads another.

The second phase of the Alberta is Calling campaign explains why Torontonians and Vancouverites might want to move to the oil-rich province: cheaper housing, good pay and shorter commutes.

At a campaign launch event in Toronto last month, former Alberta premier Jason Kenney spoke directly to the city’s youth.

« I want to especially thank young people in the GTA and Greater Vancouver area, as they all rightly dream of being homeowners, » Kenney said.

“That dream is alive and well in Alberta.

According to the Canadian Real Estate Association, the average home price in Alberta was around $424,000 in August. By comparison, average home prices in Ontario and British Columbia were $830,000 and $911,000 respectively.

In Toronto and Vancouver, prices are well above provincial averages.

The pitch comes as Ontario experiences the largest exodus of residents in decades. According to Statistics Canada, nearly 50,000 people left the province in the second quarter of this year.

Meanwhile, Alberta has seen an influx of people entering the province, with more than 37,000 new residents.

Mikal Skuterud, an economics professor at the University of Waterloo, says movement between provinces is good if it means workers get to where they’re needed most.

« We need competition, » Skuterud said, adding that employers should be competing for talent across the country, not just in the local communities where they are based.

“We want workers to realize that there are many jobs [and] where wages rise.

Mike Moffatt, an assistant professor at Western University’s Ivey Business School, said with young people increasingly concerned about housing affordability, « it’s really smart for Alberta to tout the benefits of living there. -down ».

Moffatt says while Alberta’s latest campaign might be more aggressive in tone, other parts of Ontario have made similar presentations to Toronto residents.

As more Torontonians have migrated out of the city over the years and into areas like Kitchener-Waterloo and St. Catharines, prices have risen in those cities, he said.

« With the increase in working from home, it’s possible this will turn into a pan-Canadian phenomenon, » Moffatt said.

This phenomenon has already happened in the Maritimes as Ontarians headed east during the COVID-19 pandemic, opting for bigger homes at cheaper prices.

The influx of Ontarians has driven house prices up dramatically in historically cheap New Brunswick. Last year, prices rose more than 30% in the province.

As Canadians continue to search for affordable housing, Moffatt says local communities will need to be aware of the growing population and ensure they have the housing to accommodate it.

Back in Edmonton, Shah says the move to Alberta won’t be for everyone. Torontonians must give up living in Canada’s most populous city and Vancouverites would say goodbye to the mild weather.

« If you like fast life and crowded places, Toronto is better than Alberta, obviously, » she said.

However, Moffatt said if the message gets to even a small fraction of people, it could mean a lot more new workers for Alberta.

« There are probably enough people saying, ‘You know what, I can handle an Edmonton winter if it means I can actually own a house.' »

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on October 12, 2022.


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