Latest: Leong: Alberta can stop calling and let the job market sort itself out

You wouldn’t be faulted if you were starting to wonder if the Alberta is Calling campaign, while well-intentioned, has resulted in more drawbacks than benefits for Albertans old and new.

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Alberta called — and in great numbers, you came from all across Canada.

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Over the last two years, this province has seen an incredible number of people moving here, often at a record-breaking pace.

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Alberta’s recent population spike coincided with the Alberta is Calling campaign, launched in August 2022, a provincial government promotional effort to entice Canadians to set down roots in Wild Rose Country.

Since then, the program has morphed. With last week’s provincial budget, the Alberta is Calling campaign’s next phase transforms it from an advertising blitz into a $5,000 tax credit targeting skilled workers in high-demand fields.

Then, as now, it seemed like a good idea. With the province short of labour to fill highly skilled jobs, what would be the harm in raising our visibility a little?

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With a couple of years and a bit of hindsight under our belt, you wouldn’t be faulted if you were starting to wonder if this effort, while well-intentioned, has resulted in more drawbacks than benefits for Albertans old and new.

It’s unclear if the province had weighed our capacity to welcome the many thousands of newcomers arriving at our doorstep from out of province and setting up camp.

People need a place to live, schools for their kids and professionals to mind their health care.

We’ve now suddenly found ourselves short in all those areas.

Rent has skyrocketed since 2022, recently rising faster than anywhere else in Canada. Housing construction is having a hard time keeping up with demand, pushing up prices.

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This has led to a perverse situation in which locals could be priced out of their homes. And while prices are high when compared to what Albertans had been used to, the costs remain comparatively affordable for people coming from such places as Toronto or Vancouver.

Meanwhile, demand for public services is rising but the province has said its planned spending increases in Alberta’s 2024-25 budget would be below the combined rate of inflation and population growth.

Even with newfound efficiencies and increased hiring, it may not be enough to prevent public sector functions from being pushed even further beyond their capacity.

Alberta Finance Minister Nate Horner
Alberta Finance Minister Nate Horner delivers the 2024 provincial budget at the Alberta Legislature in Edmonton on Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024. David Bloom/Postmedia

Are small personal tax breaks truly helpful in attracting labour?

As for the next phase, with the province to be offering tax breaks for certain newcomers, we must ask whether such arrangements are even enticements at all.

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Tax credits can be seen as a dubious means of nudging people to alter their behaviour.

In addition to such credits being targeted, someone who would otherwise benefit from something like this might not have the correct income tax situation to allow it.

And really, for the hundreds of thousands of people who’ve moved to Alberta over the last half-century, I doubt many would have put much thought into how personal taxes were arranged.

In real life, I suspect things are much simpler: The priorities were — and always will be — to get work, find a decent and affordable place to live, source appropriately priced food and, if applicable, get the kids to school.

No government ad campaign, however widespread and splashy, will ever change that.

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Instead, the province could have focused on the boring but necessary task of ensuring our infrastructure and services are at a sufficient level to accommodate a migration spike.

Officials could have made sure our policies would encourage the construction of all types of housing.

And let’s not forget private industry has the power to attract workers as well. Employers can choose to create the right conditions to favour their recruitment efforts.

That’s the power of a free-market economy … and yet somehow, Alberta seems to have forgotten this and decided it wants to muscle in on the action by offering a pseudo-subsidy for jobs.

Perhaps we could have trusted our fellow Canadians to call Alberta home without having called them to action — as it’s been for decades.

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