Alberta reboots 'calling' campaign, British Columbians are listening
As her neighbouring counterpart revives his "Alberta is calling" campaign, B.C.'s jobs minister is downplaying the first brain drain the province has seen in more than a decade.
Touting it as “Alberta is calling, again,” Alberta says last summer’s campaign aimed at Toronto and Vancouver residents was so successful, it's spending another $5 million Canada-wide to promote the lack of sales tax, higher average wages, and lower cost of living.
Setting aside political posturing during an election year for Albertans, British Columbia’s recent budget document does acknowledge that in the third quarter of last year, inter-provincial migration saw a net loss of 4,799 people “largely due to higher out-migration to Alberta.” Overall, more than 100,000 net new residents moved the province, but they were largely international immigrants.
B.C. UNFAZED BY CAMPAIGN
B.C. Jobs and Economic Development Minister Brenda Bailey pointed out workers have drifted across the Rockies depending on the job opportunities over the years. Right now, oil prices are drawing people to Alberta again, but British Columbia’s tech industry is roaring, there are diverse industries providing good jobs, and the NDP government has made investments in natural resources and developments benefiting rural and remote communities, Bailey said.
“British Columbia remains very competitive and our economy's doing well,” the minister said in an interview with CTV News, while acknowledging the affordability challenges, especially for families.
“This is why investing in things like child care is so deeply important – we have saved the average family more than $500 a month on child care.”
But UBC policy professor and founder of Generation Squeeze Paul Kershaw points out that while subsidies and other affordability measures help, they pale in comparison to housing prices that have far outstripped wage growth.
“I could talk to you about what we need to do with regards to rent control, I could talk to you about what we need to do with regards to zoning, I could talk to you about what we need to do to scale up not-for-profit housing and I could talk to you about what we need to do with tax policy,” he said. “We won't ever co-ordinate all of those all as well as we absolutely need to if we don't talk about this cultural addiction in B.C. to high and rising home prices.”
AFFORDABLE HOUSING NOT EASILY SOLVED
Kershaw suggested that unless government is willing to speak openly about changes that would cut already high housing costs in half, there’s no chance for wages to catch up.
“We might like the pretty ocean and the pretty mountains here and the slightly warmer climate – those things only go so far in terms of making one's quality of life match 'how hard do I have to work to cover rent?'” he said, pointing out he has trouble recruiting the best graduate students due to prohibitive living expenses.
While the risks of a boom-and-bust economy like Alberta’s are well-known, Bailey acknowledged that affordable housing for British Columbians of all income levels remains an Achilles heel for B.C., and is stifling economic growth and net gains in interprovincial migration.
“That’s why we've invested more than $7 billion in housing in the 2023 budget. It’s about affordable housing but it's also about middle class housing,” she said. “This is really important work: It's not going to happen overnight, but it's a massive priority for our government.”
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