BEPPLE – Be careful British Columbia, Alberta is coming on strong

(Image: Wikimedia)

AS CHANCE WOULD have it, I went on a road trip for work to Alberta a couple weeks back.  I mainly went to smaller places: Jasper, Grande Cache, Grande Prairie, Slave Lake and Lacombe.  Plus the Edmonton and Calgary airports.

I didn’t see all of Alberta, but I saw enough to make me wonder about B.C.

I grew up in B.C., and for as long as I can remember, B.C. has been the third largest province.  Third in population, third in GDP.  Being from BC was sort of like being one of the big kids. All the other provinces were okay, but it was B.C., plus Ontario and Quebec that mattered.

It’s not that way anymore.

It’s true that Alberta’s population is still less than B.C.’s.  In the 2016 census, BC’s was 4.75 million compared to 4.07 million for Alberta. So on sheer numbers of people, B.C. is still top dog.

But when you look at our populations more closely, it’s clear B.C. is losing the race to Alberta.

First, Alberta’s population is growing at a faster rate than B.C.’s.  Within a few decades, by 2041, BC and Alberta will both have roughly the same population of about 6 million.

But while Alberta currently has the youngest average age in Canada at 36.3 years, B.C.’s average age is 42. Alberta’s younger population translates to more people of working age now and in the foreseeable future.

And while Alberta’s population is less than BC’s, its GDP is higher.  That is to say, with its smaller, but younger population, Alberta economy outperforms B.C.’s economy.  B.C.’s GDP in 2016 was $263 billion.  With its smaller population, Alberta’s GDP is still larger, at $314 billion.  The difference in GDP is reflected in the personal incomes between the provinces as well.  The average income in B.C. is $32,451, while in AB is $37,905.

Now when I was driving through small Alberta towns, I didn’t know any of these facts or figures.  But what I saw was evidence enough.  On every highway I drove on, there were large transport trucks moving equipment, construction materials and farm machinery. There were pieces of equipment I’ve never seen before being moved to who knows where.  Some was certainly for oil and gas, but there were logging trucks and mining equipment as well.  The farm fields were at peak production with yellow canola and green pulse crops.

When I stopped in Grande Prairie, what I found (perhaps not surprisingly) was that it had top end fashion stores one would expect in Vancouver or Calgary.   This despite being 60,000, compared to Kamloops’ population of 90,000.   When I stopped in Slave Lake, I was expecting a dreary little northern town, but its downtown was vibrant and its recreational facilities were top notch.

Grande Cache seemed a lot like Logan Lake.  It was an “instant town” built for a mine.  It has definitely fallen on harder times since its mine closed.  The mine is scheduled to reopen this fall, and there is cautious optimism.  My take away from that town was the diversity of its population (and all of northern Alberta).  I definitely wasn’t expecting to see cricket being played in Grande Cache when I went there. The businesses I visited there and across Alberta were staffed with young professionals, many from around the world who came to Alberta for work.

The other thing I took away from my road trip through parts of Alberta is that it doesn’t seem to be focused on B.C.  Here in the B.C.’s summer of Kinder Morgan protests, it is easy to think that the rest of the country, and Alberta especially, is paying attention.  But from my perspective, watching all of the activity in Alberta, it seems clear that Albertans are just going about their businesses, with or without us.

For instance, it was interesting to see the rail car oil filling station along the side of the highway between Grande Prairie and Slave Lake.  One hundred tank cars waiting to be filled, many that would probably roll through Kamloops,

While for years it’s seemed B.C.’s economy has been underpinned by out of control, escalating real estate prices, plus shady casino cash transactions, Alberta’s economy has been built on real jobs across many sectors.

Most of my trip was by car, but I flew in and out of Edmonton, via Calgary.  I flew back to Kamloops on a Friday.  My last observation about Alberta was the dozen or more workers who were flying home from Alberta to Kamloops with me.  I only have to make that trip to Alberta about once a year for work.  But there must be hundreds in Kamloops who go to Alberta on an ongoing basis for work. They choose to live in Kamloops, but need to work in Alberta.

B.C. is a beautiful place to live.  People want to live here, and that may be all that’s necessary.   But having just driven through Alberta, it’s clear that people can make anywhere a great place to live, and it’s a lot easier if there’s a job.

Nancy Bepple is a former city councillor of Kamloops with a strong interest in community building projects.

About Mel Rothenburger (6630 Articles) is a forum about Kamloops and the world. It has more than one million views. Mel Rothenburger is the former Editor of The Daily News in Kamloops, B.C. (retiring in 2012), and past mayor of Kamloops (1999-2005). At he is the publisher, editor, news editor, city editor, reporter, webmaster, and just about anything else you can think of. He is grateful for the contributions of several local columnists. This blog doesn't require a subscription but gratefully accepts donations to help defray costs.

10 Comments on BEPPLE – Be careful British Columbia, Alberta is coming on strong

  1. Tony Brumell // August 1, 2018 at 11:32 PM // Reply

    Considering what they have done to their province to get all that wealth I would rather live in the US ,We know they are insane but Alberta hides it better. I’ve never seen so much destruction.It’s quite disgusting what some folks /governments will do for money.Way to go Nance.

  2. And we also enjoy the highest cost of living to go with the highest carbon tax. Maybe a connection there.

  3. Nancy, great article. Good common sense observations and interesting statistics. As for the oil industry coming to an end….don’t hold your breath.

  4. Alberta has no provincial sales tax. Perhaps that’s one reason for its economic vitality.
    I’ve been reading books by Mason Gaffney about Georgist economics and how the methods governments use for taxation are at least as important as how governments spend the money. Gaffney says that one reason why the United States is still the world’s predominant economic power is because it is the only major nation without a national sales or value added tax.

  5. David Goar // August 1, 2018 at 9:33 AM // Reply

    Comparison is the thief of contentment. What laudable purpose does it serve?

    Alberta’s economy, as we all know, is built and maintained on a foundation of fossil fuels extraction which involves some of the dirtiest oil on Earth. Alberta would be prudent to utilize the natural “dividend “ it enjoys to move its economy beyond an industry that is, by necessity, growing obsolete and take full advantage of its Human Resources to diversify into the economy of the new century; the economy of sustainable development.

    To suggest that what is going on in Alberta is something to be envied or emulated, is not only short sighted but counter productive.

    Of all provinces, BC is the one coming closest to developing a social conscience and a recognition that we cannot continue stealing the future from,our descendants in order to preserve our outdated economy and the prosperity it has provided. This is something to be optimistic about.

  6. Not all that glitters is gold Nancy.
    But for sure casinos’ money launderers should be sent to Alberta for good.

  7. Go there when the oil industry finally comes to an end and see if you will have the same experience.

  8. Ken McClelland // August 1, 2018 at 8:09 AM // Reply

    Great article Nancy. We are over-regulated in BC, and not only seem to be incapable of making a decidion, but are also subject to a variation of Newton’s Third Law of Motion. For every new business or industry proposed in BC, there must be an equal and opposite protest against that business or industry.

    • Nice try Kenny! Ms. Bepple cited stats from an era which was under a certain political influence….no it was not Charlemagne.

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