Alberta advantage slipping as living standards and wages decline: report

A new report published by the Alberta Federation of Labour says the "Alberta Advantage" is slipping away due to declining living standards and wages.  Alberta's provincial flag flies on a flagpole in Ottawa, Tuesday, June 30, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld. GAC

A new report published by the Alberta Federation of Labour says the “Alberta advantage” is slipping away due to declining living standards and wages.

The 54-page report by economist Jim Stanford suggests Alberta has the slowest wage growth among all provinces despite equally high inflation, which caused an “unprecedented downward pressure” on living standards.

According to the report, the annual wage increases for hourly employees from 2018 to 2023 averaged at just two per cent per year. This is slower than the national average during the same time period, which was 3.4 per cent.

For salaried and hourly employees, the average annual growth in nominal weekly earnings during the same time period was around 2.3 per cent, compared with the national average which was 3.8 per cent.

He added Alberta no longer has the highest hourly wage for hourly employees in Canada. According to the report, wages in B.C. surpassed those in Alberta in 2023 due to wage-supporting policies.

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This is a stark contrast to 2013, when average hourly wages for hourly employees were 17 per cent higher in Alberta than the Canadian average, according to Stanford.

Stanford attributed the weak wage growth to the United Conservative government’s “deliberate efforts” to suppress wages, pointing to its long-term freeze in minimum wages. Across Canada, minimum wages have increased by an average of 27 per cent from 2018 to 2023.

The employment rate in Alberta is also declining, the report reads.

Job creation in Alberta is not sufficient to keep up with the province’s faster-than-average population growth (10 per cent over the last five years), which means the employment rate has fallen by 1.6 percentage points since 2018.

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The decline is “by far the worst of any province,” according to the report.

“We’ve gathered the data that shows the real purchasing power of an hours work in Alberta’s economy has fallen by 10 per cent over the last 10 years. Whether the times were good or bad, whether the oil price was up or down, real wages have been falling and falling steadily,” Stanford said at an event on Saturday.

The report said workers in Alberta are also not being “compensated” with lower prices to offset their weak wage increases and blames the United Conservative government’s policies, or lack thereof.

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Food prices in Alberta grew by a cumulative 27 per cent over the past five years which is equal to the national rate of food inflation, Stanford said.

Shelter costs in Alberta also increased by 22 per cent over the last five years, which also matches the Canada-wide experience. However, rents are rising faster in Alberta than anywhere else in Canada, which Stanford said is partly due to a lack of rent control policies.

Stanford also claims that the dramatic rise in electricity prices in Alberta (85 per cent over the past five years) is due to the province’s privatized system.

“It’s clear from this report that the Alberta advantage is dead and the UCP government killed it,” said Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour.

“It’s the responsibility of Albertans to fight back and try to restore our living standards because that’s really what this report is saying.”

In an emailed statement to Global News, a spokesperson for Alberta’s Ministry of Jobs, Economy and Trade said Alberta is the “economic engine of Canada” because 90 per cent of private-sector jobs were created in the province between October 2023 and March 2024.

The spokesperson added that the government is trying to diversify the economy, which will mean more jobs for Albertans in the coming years.

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“Alberta also remains the destination of choice for Canadians, with Alberta’s population increasing by approximately 200,000 or 4.5 per cent year over year,” said Josh Aldrich, the ministry’s press secretary.

“The reasons are clear: Alberta has the fastest growing economy, pays some of the highest wages in Canada, has the lowest taxes, and is a beautiful place to live, work, and raise a family. With the highest basic personal amount and no sales tax, Albertans get to keep more of what they earn, adding to Alberta’s relative cost of living advantages.”

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