Population Growth and Population Aging in Alberta Municipalities


  • Kevin McQuillan University of Calgary
  • Michael Laszlo




Between 2011 and 2021, a significant number of Alberta’s towns, villages and rural areas experienced population stagnation or decline, while the cities and many nearby municipalities continued to grow. As smaller municipalities’ populations shrink or fail to grow, they also become disproportionately older—trends that can threaten tax bases and community involvement.

This demographic trend has two main causes. First, Alberta’s cities offer increasing employment opportunities in the rapidly growing service sector, while many smaller communities have seen declines in employment in the resource and manufacturing sectors important to their economies and struggle to attract new industries. Thus, as in the rest of the country, towns, villages and municipal districts lose residents, especially young people, to where the jobs are. Second, while the province’s birth rate continues to decline, and overall growth has come to depend almost as much on international immigration as on natural growth, newcomers to the province tend to prefer the major urban areas.

Following Alberta’s boom years, the last decade saw decreased migration from other provinces into Alberta and a declining fertility rate. The province’s economy is now on the mend, with the highest employment rate in Canada; however, the once-high birth rates and elevated rates of internal migration from other provinces are unlikely to return. The pace of growth will depend on Alberta’s ability to attract a healthy share of the many new immigrants Canada intends to welcome over the decade ahead. Alberta’s smaller municipalities, in turn, need strategies to attract immigrants. For this, they will require employment opportunities and dedicated resources to assist newcomers. Manitoba has had success in doing this and may offer Alberta an example of how to proceed.

Some emerging economic and social trends may work to the benefit of smaller municipalities. For example, industries that require large amounts of land or significant storage facilities often opt to locate outside the big cities. New developments in agriculture and energy, especially in geothermal and hydrogen, may open new opportunities for growth in towns and rural areas. While Alberta is unlikely to replicate B.C.’s success in attracting retirees, the popularity of outdoor recreation provides a chance for many municipalities to attract new residents.

Although changes in work practices brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic make future trends difficult to predict, as people continue to work at a distance from their places of employment, it is possible that Alberta could see a demographic shift away from the urban centres. Smaller municipalities may attract both city dwellers and immigrants seeking the benefits of life away from the cities, including bigger and less costly properties.

Nevertheless, slower growth and population aging are likely to continue, and communities must use the coming years to prepare, putting in place necessary services, especially those related to health care. This is especially vital in communities far from the urban centres.






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