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Canadians flocking to Alberta despite unemployment rate, rising housing costs

Alberta attracted more interprovincial migrants than anywhere else in Canada in the first three months of 2023.

The province gained 15,786 residents from elsewhere in the country. Meanwhile, B.C. and Ontario saw net losses of 712 and 14,732, respectively. 

However, Alberta’s unemployment rate is higher than both B.C. and Ontario, at 5.7 per cent. The national unemployment rate was 5.2 per cent in May. 

Cristina Schultz, a recruiting manager with About Staffing in Calgary, says there’s a disconnect between some new arrivals’ expectations and the Alberta job market. 

Schultz said many interprovincial migrants move from Ontario, which boasts different job market conditions, and arrive in Alberta seeking remote or hybrid positions. 

“That’s just not plentiful here in Alberta,” said Schultz. “Employers are seeking those who are in office and are actually coming to the physical space.”

Larissa Lisboa moved her family from London, Ont., to Edmonton about a month ago. 

After being laid off from a previous position, Lisboa said she started job hunting in Alberta because layoffs created intense competition in Ontario. 

“There was like a crisis,” she said. “Many good people are on the market looking for jobs.”

Ontario’s unemployment rate increased from 4.9 per cent in April to 5.5 per cent in May 2023. 

Tall office buildings fill the skyline on a sunny summer day in Edmonton, Alta.
Edmonton has lower rental costs than any other major city in Canada, according to Rentals.ca. Recruiting manager Cristina Schultz says housing affordability is the main factor attracting interprovincial migrants to Alberta. (Codie McLachlan/CBC)

Lisboa said she received job offers in both Edmonton and Toronto but chose Edmonton because of the cost of living. 

“We realized that we would have a much better life here than in Toronto,” she said. 

Many workers are basing their decision on housing affordability, according to Schultz. 

A two-bedroom apartment in Edmonton rents for an average of $1,500. Two-bedroom apartments in Toronto and Vancouver are more than twice as expensive. 

“It’s the No.1 reason that we get,” Lisboa said. 

Rental costs in Edmonton rose 11.3 per cent from June 2022 to June 2023, but the city still offers the most affordable housing out of any major city, according to data from Rentals.ca, a large online real estate network.

“Over the last five years, the biggest drive of people looking for work has been the culture, the environment,” Schultz said. “Now it’s really boiling down to what is that base salary that I’m able to get to pay my bills.”

Heather Watkins, 53, lived in Greater Vancouver for her whole life, until she moved to Edmonton in May. 

She said she had a good job as a retail manager in Vancouver but could no longer afford to live in the city. 

“It’s a beautiful place. There’s lots of outdoor activities,” said Watkins. “But is that enough to spend your entire paycheck on just surviving?” 

A concrete 13-storey building with cherry blossoms in the foreground.
Vancouver boasts the most expensive housing costs in Canada, according to Rentals.ca. In June, the average two-bedroom apartment was more than twice as expensive as those rented in Edmonton. (Yasmine Ghania/CBC)

Watkins settled in Edmonton because she can still visit family and friends living in British Columbia, and she says it’s improved her quality of life.

She said she’s paying about $250 less every month for rent for a larger, nicer, newer house. 

“I baked bread today… I couldn’t even do that at my old apartment because I didn’t have enough counter space,” said Watkins. 

Lisboa also said the move was the right decision for her family.

“We moved because of the job, but we are really liking the city,” she said. “It was a very good surprise.” 

According to the latest Consumer Price Index data, Alberta’s inflation rate is slightly below the national average at 3.1 per cent, compared to 3.4 per cent. 

The latest phase of the Alberta is Calling campaign ran from March 13 to April 9 and focused on attracting workers from Southern Ontario and Atlantic Canada. 

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