BUSINESS

Canada's Great East-West Migration, In One Chart

10/15/2014 12:12 EDT | Updated 10/15/2014 12:59 EDT

The oilsands boom is reshaping Canada in many ways, and nowhere is this more obvious than where people are moving.

We've known for a long time that Canadians are flocking to Alberta for jobs, but a new chart from BMO shows just extreme the trend has become.

Atlantic Canada’s population is shrinking, while Alberta’s population growth is basically doubling the national average, BMO economist Benjamin Reitzes wrote in a client note Wednesday.

Reitzes found the trend is especially strong among working-age people (15 to 64), with Atlantic Canada losing more than one per cent of that group over the past year.

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population change canada

Those numbers put some context to all the news recently about that growing chasm in Canada’s economy: Alberta versus everyone else.

Take, for instance, Bloomberg’s projection that Alberta will overtake Quebec as the second-largest economy in Canada in some three years, despite having about half the population of Quebec.

Or the news that, in Canada’s moribund job market over the past year, Edmonton alone accounted for 40 per cent of job growth. Or this projection from BMO that Alberta could soon be building more new homes than all of Canada east of Ontario combined.

No wonder the country is headed to Alberta. We’ll get the old “last one out of the Maritimes turn out the lights” joke out of the way, and move right on to mentioning that this piling-into-Alberta trend may not last if oil prices keep sliding.

The International Energy Agency noted this week that about a quarter of new Canadian oil projects would be vulnerable if oil prices continued to decline.

And CIBC’s Benjamin Reitzes noted last week that investment in the oilsands — which have some of the highest production costs of any oil fields in the world — could drop off fast if oil prices fall below $80 U.S. Brent crude was trading at around $85 on Wednesday, down from around $115 earlier this year.

So if this bear market in oil prices continues, Alberta’s oil boom could come to a whimpering end. But for now, it’s far too early to call an end to the oil-driven economic miracle out west.

Provincial Population Growth Rates 2013