Take this opportunity to learn about the Canadian province of Alberta.
Alberta is the westernmost of Canada’s three Prairie Provinces. Often known as Canada's "energy province,” Alberta is home to over 3.6 million people, and growing quickly. The bulk of this population resides in Alberta’s two largest cities: Edmonton, which serves as the provincial capital, and Calgary each have a population of over 1 million residents. Alberta is a world leader in the oil and gas industry, but is also home to a vibrant and fast-growing industrial and service economy. Thanks to the opportunities provided by this economic growth, Alberta has become one of the top destinations for immigration to Canada. Alberta is arguably Canada’s most prosperous province today, and is recognized world-wide for its high standard of living.
Alberta Economy and Employment
After over a decade of high growth rates, Alberta remains filled with potential for further economic expansion. Alberta’s economy is driven by its booming energy industry, a major employer in the province. The energy industry accounts for over 300,000 jobs in the province, both directly and indirectly. This sector is expected to grow even further as technological advances allow the development of the oil sands in the north of the province. Alberta’s high rate of economic growth is not limited to the energy industry, however, as the province boasts a diverse economy. Alberta’s manufacturing sector has doubled in size in the last decade, and innovation is spurring new industries that make Alberta a strong competitor in global markets. Beyond oil and gas, forestry remains an important industry, worth over $4 billion annually. Alberta has also traditionally been home to large farming and ranching industries, which remain an important part of the province’s culture and economy.
With the rapid pace of economic development in the province, Alberta is a great place to find work in Canada. Alberta enjoys an unemployment of around 4.7%, well below the national average of 7.0%. When this low unemployment rate is combined with low natural population growth and record-setting numbers for job creation, the result is that there are many job opportunities available for immigrants in the province. In recent years the province has increased the number of permanent resident immigrants as well as temporary foreign workers living and working in the province, yet the unemployment rate continues to decline. International surveys consistently rank Calgary and Edmonton among the top cities in the world to work. On top of the availability of jobs, people enjoy working in Alberta thanks to its high standard of living.
Alberta Standard of Living
Thanks to low levels of unemployment and high demand for workers, Alberta’s average wage and salary rates are highly competitive with the rest of Canada. The minimum wage in Alberta approaches the Canadian average at 8.80$/hr. Most noteworthy, Albertan families have the highest average combined income in Canada.
Albertans also have the lowest personal taxes in Canada, thanks to the wealth of natural resources. Based on a two-income family with two children, earning an income of 60,000$, Albertans pay $3,583 less in taxes than residents of Newfoundland and Labrador and $990 less than residents of Ontario. Alberta's personal tax advantage results from a low single rate tax system, including the highest basic and spousal exemptions in the country, no general sales tax, the lowest gasoline tax rate among the provinces, and low property taxes. What this all translates to is more income remaining for families to spend on living expenses.
Alberta enjoys a very low crime rate that makes its cities and towns pleasant places to live and safe to raise a family. In addition, the province’s natural beauty, including vast forests and the Rocky Mountains, contribute to a desirable living environment. The standard of living in Alberta is one of the most important factors in attracting immigrants to the province.
Alberta Residential Housing
Alberta has one of the more affordable housing markets in Canada. Although the high rate of migration to the province, combined with increased incomes for Alberta residents, has created a surge of demand that has brought a rise in prices, the province remains an affordable place to buy or rent housing. With home builders putting up new homes at a fast pace, housing costs are expected to decline in the next few years.
The average house price in Alberta is approximately 38% to 48% less than in Toronto and Vancouver. (Edmonton: 179,610 $; Calgary: 222,860$). Overall, the percentage of household income taken up by housing costs is below the Canadian average, varying between 18% to 28% depending on the type of accommodation. For more information on finding a place to live when you move to Alberta, this Government of Alberta site is rich in information for buying or renting homes.
Alberta has a renowned education system, from kindergarten right through to its universities, which produces world-leading research. In Canada, all citizens and permanent residents under the age of 20 are entitled to free education until the end of high school through the public school system. When you move to Alberta, your children will have a choice of several different schooling options, all funded by tax dollars and without fees. Aside from the main public school system, there are also francophone schools for education in French, as well as a Catholic school system. At the cutting edge, Alberta also has online/virtual education programs, as well as alternative schools available as educational options. Some people in the province elect to send their children to private schools. The vast majority, however, use the public schools, which are of a high quality.
Alberta’s publicly funded postsecondary education system has a total of 24 institutions, including four universities with a total of over 104,500 full- and part-time students. The province’s per student and per capita spending on basic education continues to be among the highest in Canada.
Albertans pay on average $5,000 per year on tuition for post-secondary education. This rate is among the highest in Canada. The Government of Alberta, however, has several programs in place to help ease the burden and to help you save for your child’s education after he or she completes high school. The Alberta Centennial Education Plan was launched in 2005. The plan will contribute $500 to the Registered Education Savings Plan of every child born to Alberta residents in 2005 and beyond. The program is designed to give parents an incentive to start planning and saving for their child’s post-secondary education as early as possible. In 2004, total assistance to Alberta students was about $439 million.
Alberta Health Care
Under Canadian Law, all provinces and territories must provide universal, publicly funded health care to all citizens and legal residents of Canada. In other words, most basic health services in Canada are offered at no direct cost to the patient. Certain procedures that are not deemed necessary (such as elective cosmetic surgery and a number of dental care procedures, for example) are generally not covered, but the list of services paid for publicly varies from province to province. Alberta, like the rest of Canada, has universal, publicly funded health care. Approximately $3,500 per capita is spent each year on health care in the province, which is among the highest in Canada.
Alberta joined Canadian confederation as a separate province in 1905. The province is named after the fourth daughter of Queen Victoria. Before it gained provincial status, Alberta had been governed as a region of the North-West territories. Until 1868 the province’s territory, along with other large portions of what today makes up Canada, was controlled by the Hudson’s Bay Company of Canada.
Before the arrival of European settlers in the 1700s the indigenous First Nations of Alberta inhabited the area for over 8,000 years. Many of these indigenous peoples were displaced by European settlement of the are. Indigenous communities remain, however, and are an important part of Albertan history.
Alberta entered Canadian confederation as a province along with its neighbour to the East, Saskatchewan, in 1905. In its early history Alberta was mostly a province of farmers, with some additional mining activity. The province was hit hard by the depression of the 1920s but recovered with some strong government intervention. The oil and gas boom, which continues to benefit the province today, began in 1947. Thanks to the prosperity from this natural wealth, Alberta was able to invest in its economy and education to create the strong and diverse modern economy found in the province today.
Alberta has a unique and vibrant culture that has been largely shaped by immigrants who have settled in the province. Throughout the province, but especially in the major cities of Calgary and Edmonton, one can find the culture, cuisine, music and arts of communities from all over the world. One example of this immigrant culture on display is Calgary’s Carifest, an annual celebration of Caribbean culture in the province.
Thanks to the fusion of all of these communities’ cultures, Alberta’s cities are cosmopolitan in their own right. In 1988, Calgary was on display to the whole world when it hosted the Winter Olympic Games. Edmonton is known for its excellent festivals, especially the Edmonton Fringe Festival, the second largest of its kind in the world after the one in Edinburgh. Edmonton is also known for the West Edmonton Mall, once the largest indoor shopping mall in the world.
Alberta’s culture also retains a degree of influence from its history of frontier settlement and traditional farming. The greatest example of this “cowboy culture” is the Calgary Stampede, the annual summer festival that features such events as bull-roping and rodeos. The Stampede and the celebrations that surround it draw over 1.2 million visitors each year.
Alberta is home to over 3.6 million people, approximately one tenth of the total population of Canada. About two thirds of this population is centered in the province’s two largest cities, with just over 1 million living in each of the Calgary and Edmonton metropolitan areas. After these cities, significant population centers include Red Deer (90,000), Lethbridge (83,000), Fort McMurray (62,000), Medicine Hat (60,000) and Grand Prairie (55,000). In total, over 80% of the province’s population lives in urban areas.
Immigration has played a crucial role in shaping the makeup of Alberta. As a result of larger waves of immigration earlier in the province’s development, a large proportion of the province’s residents identify heritage from Great Britain, Germany, Ireland, Ukraine and France. Alberta also has large communities of South Asian and Chinese heritage. As immigration to Alberta today reaches some of its highest levels ever, the province continues to become more and more diverse.
The majority of Albertans identify as Christian. The province itself, however, is largely secular, with over 44% of residents reporting in the most recent census that they had not attended a place of worship in the past year. Alberta is also home to many people of the Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Jewish and Buddhist faiths. In fact, Edmonton is home to the oldest Mosque in North America.
Alberta is one of the most popular destinations for immigrants to Canada thanks to its quality of life and economic opportunities. According to an agreement with the Government of Canada signed in May 2007, the province will play an increased role in selecting immigrants who will settle in the province. While the exact form that this role will take remains to be determined, the Alberta Ministry of Employment Immigration and Industry is expected to have greater involvement in decision making when it comes to attracting immigrants and nominating for immigration individuals who possess skills that are needed in Alberta.
Canada’s government works on a federal system, with control over certain affairs belonging to the national government in Ottawa, and others under the control of the provincial governments. The province of Alberta has its own democratically-elected parliament (known as the Alberta Legislative Assembly) which is found in the provincial capital of Edmonton. The current government of the province is led by the Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta, headed by Premier Jim Prentice, who replaced former Premier Alison Redford. As with any Canadian province, Alberta has wide control over its health, education and other services. Thanks to the natural resource wealth in the province, the Government of Alberta is able to provide high quality services while collecting the lowest levels of taxes in Canada.
The Major Cities
Calgary is the largest city in Alberta and the fifth largest metropolitan area in Canada. It is also one of the fastest-growing cities, and home to a diverse multicultural array of residents. While the majority of Calgarians identify with European heritage, people from all over the world live in Calgary. Some notably large communities are the Chinese-Canadian population and the South Asian population. The Aboriginal, Filipino and Latin American communities in the city are also sizable, vibrant and growing.
The economy of the city is centered around the petroleum industry, financial institutions and high-technology industries. Some of the major companies headquartered in the city include Canadian Pacific Railway, Imperial Oil, EnCana and Petro-Canada. As the city continues to grow, more and more major multinational companies are setting up offices in the city, marking the increasing significance of Calgary in the world economy.
Calgary is recognised worldwide for its combination of quality of life with economic growth. A 2007 survey by Forbes Magazine ranked Calgary as the cleanest city in the world, while surveys by Mercer Consulting and The Economist have ranked the city very highly in quality of life (25th and 10th in the world, respectively). The cosmopolitan city has a multicultural flair and played host to the 1988 Winter Olympic Games. These impressive credentials continue to draw newcomers to the city each year.
Edmonton is the capital of the Province of Alberta, and the sixth largest city in Canada, just slightly smaller than Calgary. While the city is home to over 1 million people, the city has a very low population density, covering 684 square kilometers. This large land area provides the city with a large amount of green space, a major attraction of the city. Edmonton’s river valley is over 20 times the size of New York’s central park.
While the population of Edmonton was under 10,000 when it became the capital of the new province of Alberta in 1905, it has grown steadily since the oil boom began in the late 1940s. The city experienced a recession through the 1980s and early 1990s, but the last decade has been a period of growth and renewal for the city. Today the city is a strong industrial hub, with companies such as IBM, TELUS, Dell and General Electric locating major offices there thanks to its reputation as one of Canada’s top centers for research.
Links and Resources
Government of Alberta
Finding Employment in Alberta
Immigrating to Alberta through the Provincial Nomination Program
The Facts on Buying or Renting a Home in Alberta
Alberta Ministry of Employment, Immigration and Industry
Citizenship and Immigration Canada