Edmonton’s population is growing rapidly with few signs of slowing down, according to a new report by the Conference Board of Canada.
This year, more than 30,000 international newcomers are expected to arrive in Edmonton. That comes after a net international migration to Edmonton last year of more than 33,000, nearly three times the 20-year average.
There are several reasons for such large inflows, said Ted Mallett, the director of economic forecasting at the Conference Board.
One of them is the federal government speeding up immigration.
“The immigration has by design been increased significantly,” Mallett said in an interview Monday.
Two other reasons, he said, are that Prairie cities such as Edmonton and Calgary tend to have higher wages and more reasonable housing costs compared to cities like Toronto and Vancouver.
“What sets Edmonton apart is that home building tends to be very consistent and at a high pace,” Mallett said.
He said the provincial economy has a “very powerful economic engine,” with the oil and gas sector, local manufacturing and services.
Best of both worlds
Mallett said Edmonton has the best of both worlds: strong economic underpinnings with decent wage levels plus “generally good” housing policy in the province.
“It tends to draw many more people who are perhaps priced out of the marketplace in other parts of the country,” Mallett said.
The Conference Board anticipates that net international migration to Edmonton will decline over the next two years but will still remain well above the 20-year average. Those estimates are around 21,800 people in 2024 and 18,400 in 2025.
This is likely to generate more demand and more income in the economy, Mallett said.
Rapid population growth also has its challenges.
One of them is to ensure that the new real estate construction keeps pace with population growth so new arrivals don’t end up in bidding wars for houses or apartments, Mallett said.
“The infrastructure has to keep pace — the roads, the water systems, and so on,” he said.
“City planners have to be on their toes to be able to manage the kind of inflows that we’re expecting to see over the next couple of years.”
Infrastructure acceleration needed, councillor says
Ward papastew Coun. Michael Janz agrees.
“We’re going to need to accelerate our planning around our transportation system,” he said.
The city has plans for rapid bus transit and other public transportation options coming online when the city’s population reaches 1.25 million people, Janz said.
“But that’s going to be coming sooner than we think. That could be in five or six years.”
Edmonton should work towards becoming a city where a personal vehicle isn’t necessary to move about, Janz said.
“We want to be able to connect people to places of work, and we want to continue to build and replenish areas where we already have existing infrastructure,” he said.
“We don’t want to continue urban sprawl.”
Janz also wants the province to play an active role in building amenities that will help cities absorb large numbers of new migrants.
“Now, more than ever, we need the provincial government to focus on building the kinds of welcoming spaces in Calgary and Edmonton that can receive this mass inflow of migration,” he said.
Besides recording a large spike in international migration to Edmonton, the Conference Board also noted an increased interprovincial migration to Edmonton.
In 2022, a six-year streak of people leaving Edmonton for other provinces ended, with a net 8,900 people moving to the city.
The Conference Board expects that due to strong net migration, in 2023 Edmonton’s population will have risen by 3.5 per cent, with further gains above two per cent in 2024 and 2025.
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