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Family packing bags to move from Alberta to BC
The Rockies Life Staff

Alberta’s Young Are Restless: The Reason Behind Their Exodus

Alberta's got it all...So why are youth heading west?

One way to peek into the future is through the eyes of young people. Their view of the world often shapes what it becomes. 

But what happens if the future they see and imagine does not align with the reality they perceive around them?

The perception that Alberta is conservative and intolerant has many young adults heading for the ‘greener pastures’ of progressive values in BC.

Is Alberta a ‘Has Been’ Province?

In the past, Alberta was an attractive place for young people to build their futures. We had good-paying jobs, affordable housing and reliable health care, which kept a steady influx of young adults Alberta-bound.

But the values of young people today have shifted from those of previous generations. Zoomers and Millennials – those born between 1981-1996 and 1997-2012, respectively – seek things that a new study has shown – they don’t think they’ll find in Alberta. According to Canada West Foundation Reports titled The Young are Restless: Western youth migration, and the more Alberta specific, Work to Live: Alberta youth mobility: Not only is our province not attracting young adults here, in recent years, even those born and raised in Alberta are leaving at alarming rates.

Young mom hangin a picture with her son looking on
Young families are moving from Alberta to more ‘progressive’ places like BC. Hiveboxx | Unsplash

The primary factor involved in the decision to leave the province was young people’s perceptions of “being Albertan.”

“For many youth, their identity is linked to where they live; they want to feel good about their choice of place. Alberta is seen by many Albertan and non-Albertan youth as associated with nature, oil and gas (perceived negatively), conservative (not a positive for many youth who have a more progressive world-view), and intolerant,” read a synopsis of the study.

Youth are so turned off by these perceived negative associations that they’re choosing areas like BC to live in – undaunted by the far higher cost of living in its major cities.

Rental prices are insane in BC, and the competition for rentals is ridiculous. 

Buying a home? Forget about it! Yet, youth are still flocking to BC. 

As the study put it – young adults believe in “working to live,” not “living to work.” So they’d rather be somewhere they perceive as offering more “life” than just ‘work.’

Albertans have long been known for ‘living to work,” which has made our province prosperous. That’s still important, but young people want more; a work-life balance is one of their highest priorities.

The thing is, Alberta is full of opportunities for living beyond work. 

We have high-quality education and training pathways, diverse career opportunities, a booming tech sector, stunning outdoor and nature, constantly growing arts and entertainment, vibrant cities, a responsive non-profit sector, affordable housing, competitive sports teams, and some of the best healthcare in the country (when you can get access to it!).

So why isn’t Alberta being seen for what we have? 

Is Alberta’s ‘Old-School’ Vibe Sending Youth West?

We’ve long been seen as a socially conservative province. A little bit staid, a little old-fashioned.

As former Premier Jason Kenney once put it. “It’s a disposition rooted in the belief that civil society should come before the state, and the intermediary institutions of family and volunteer organizations and local communities have their own sovereignty.”

Alberta’s conservative values show a strong attachment to personal freedom and community, but many young generations often associate that traditional mindset with intolerance and judgment.

Albertan’s views are highly diverse and don’t fit neatly into the socially conservative category. However, the traditional Alberta stereotype remains firmly entrenched even if it no longer represents the population as a whole.

However, some worrying trends are still prevalent in the province. Intolerance is one. For example, 60% of Albertans are skeptical about the benefits of immigration.

woman with a glass of wine  on driveway of newly purchased house with cardboard moving boxes in the background
Youth that stay in Alberta are more likely to be able to afford their own home than those that move to BC. Zachary Kadolph | Unsplash

A recent poll by the Environics Institute and the Canadian Race Relations Foundation showed that Albertans question the validity of refugee claimants more than other Canadians; another 6-in-10 people in Alberta think that most new immigrants don’t adopt “Canadian values.” 

But a deeper examination shows the opinions above are outliers from Albertan’s more tolerant or progressive social values. The ‘intolerant’ attitudes gain national attention because they fit into a preexisting Alberta narrative and reinforce the belief of who Albertans are.

Anti-abortion policies, for example, which have historically been heavily associated with conservative values, aren’t favoured in Alberta. Over four-in-five of Albertans support a woman’s right to make abortion decisions. 

Similarly, support for same-sex marriages has moved from 6 out of 10 Albertans a decade ago to four-in-five supporting it now. Ditto for those who felt the province was too reliant on the oil and gas sector – four-in-five Albertans agree that our province needs to diversify its energy sector and rely less on oil and gas.

Finally, four-in-five Albertans believe action needs to be taken to reduce wealth inequality, which is precisely the opposite of what you would expect from conservative ‘trickle-down’ economics.

­Only about half of Albertans polled trusted the private sector to create jobs, which in a ‘conservative’ province is surprising.

Janet Brown, a pollster who led a CBC study on Albertan Values, when speaking with The Walrus, put it this way: “If you want to understand Alberta, understand this: we love our social programs, we want to live in a fair and equitable ­society, we don’t like paying taxes, and we don’t trust Ottawa.”

These are all simplifications to demonstrate a point (obviously, you can’t have social programs without taxes). Still, as Alberta navigates the shifting landscape of youth migration, it’s clear that stereotypes and perceptions paint an incomplete picture of our dynamic province.

The diversity of views and values among Albertans defies easy categorization, and it’s time to challenge the outdated notion that conservatism is Alberta and Alberta is conservatism.

We must dismantle harmful stereotypes and showcase the real Alberta. If we don’t turn the tide on youth migration, we will start seeing the problems associated with a rapidly aging population.

Stereotypes make young people overlook the genuine benefits of living in Alberta, creating real problems for our future.

Alberta’s future hinges on our ability to break through the easy stereotypes and share the rich tapestry of views of the people who call Alberta home. For too long, we have heard the ‘same old, same old,’ and it’s time to share the real Alberta with the rest of the world.

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