The bank says in a new analysis that inter-provincial migration hit the highest level in almost a quarter of century in the past year, with the population flow to oil-rich Alberta surging to more than 50,000 people during the 12-month span ending June 30, the highest on record.
The data shows that every region is losing people in the competition between provinces, except Alberta and Saskatchewan.
BMO economist Robert Kavcic said inter-provincial migration was well established in the early 2000s as Alberta emerged as the country's growth engine, but stalled somewhat during the 2008-09 recession.
"Now we're at the part of the cycle where Alberta (is growing strong again), the unemployment rate is down to around four per cent, and Atlantic Canada has lost a lot of momentum because a lot of the fiscal stimulus there has wound down," he explained.
He noted that while all provinces are losing workers to Alberta and to a lesser extent Saskatchewan, the drain was especially dramatic in Atlantic Canada, where out migration hit 11,000, or 0.5 per cent of the population, during the last 12-month period for which there is data.
The major factor for the movement is availability of work, the report says. Alberta and Saskatchewan lead the nation with unemployment rates of 4.4 and 3.6 per cent respectively, well below the 6.9 per cent national average. The four Atlantic provinces, meanwhile, have jobless rates ranging from 9.1 per cent in Nova Scotia to 11.0 per cent in Newfoundland and Labrador.
As well, average hourly wages are now $6 higher in Alberta than they are in Atlantic Canada — the highest gap on record — and about $4 higher than in Ontario and British Columbia.
Other factors include housing affordability and taxes. Alberta has a relatively low provincial tax burden and no provincial sales tax.
Kavcic says a mobile labour force is not necessarily a bad thing since resources are diverted to where they are needed, but it also means some regions are losing skilled workers and entrepreneurs.
The movement somewhat belies industry and federal government complaints about the lack of flexibility in the labour market.
The Harper government and industry have complained for years about labour shortages in specific regions and skills, with Ottawa introducing several measures, including tighter unemployment insurance rules, in an effort to force the jobless to go further afield.
Kavcic said some governmental moves have helped increase mobility, including recent agreements between provinces that have eliminated some of the barriers to labour movements.
In terms of the most advantageous areas to work and live, BMO says Regina tops the list in terms of job prospects, median employment income, housing affordability and low taxes, followed by three other prairie cities — Calgary, Edmonton and Saskatoon.
Ottawa and Toronto come in eighth and ninth, Vancouver 11th and Montreal 14th.
Among the least attractive of the 19 areas surveyed, BMO listed Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, London, Ont., and New Brunswick in that order from the bottom.
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