Albertans, it is advisable to create additional space for an increased number of neighbors. There will be a significant influx.
If the premier’s statement is accurate, the province’s population is projected to grow by over two times by the time my three-year-old child reaches the age of 30.
In Smith’s narrative of the future, set in the middle of the century with a population of 10 million, it is possible to travel by train from Banff to Calgary and then continue at a fast pace to Edmonton. Despite relying mostly on natural gas for energy, we will achieve net-zero emissions and become the leading producer of environmentally friendly energy. Additionally, our taxes will remain low while our public services will be of top-notch quality.
This sketch of Tomorrowland, Alta., comes in this week’s provincial throne speech.
By design, these speeches offer an outlook through rose-coloured glasses — every province is world class and “the very best Canada has to offer” according to its respective throne speech — but the one Smith’s speechwriters gave Lt.-Gov. Salma Lakhani to read is something more.
To be sure, Alberta’s currently growing at a current clip not seen since 1981, having grown by a staggering 184,400 in the last year to hit 4.7 million.
5,300,000 to go
The speech from the throne, on the other hand, predicts that the current speed will persist without any hindrance.
“As we surpass five million people in the coming 24 months, Alberta’s government must set priorities and guide its work through the lens of understanding that by 2050, our province is projected to be the second largest in the country with a population approaching 10 million people,” the speech states.
It’s not clear where this growth estimate came from, because the premier’s office didn’t respond to a query Monday.
It is possible that the population of Alberta increased by 184,400 people annually until 2050. However, these numbers do not align with the government’s predictions. In July, the government projected that Alberta would have 7.1 million residents by 2051, or 8.6 million in the “high” scenario.
It is unclear how it is suggested that the province will exceed the population of British Columbia, which is currently 17 percent more populous, or Québec with its 8.9 million residents according to the latest estimate from Statistics Canada. This agency does not anticipate Alberta surpassing either province in its forecast, while Québec predicts that it will approach 10 million residents by 2050 with less growth required to reach that milestone.
However, based on the legislature-opening address, Smith’s government intends to focus on planning for a future characterized by limitless and rapid growth.
Smith mentioned two frequently discussed rail projects: a train connecting Banff to downtown Calgary and its airport, as well as the long-desired high-speed connection between Alberta’s largest cities.
“And yes, we need to start planning for the inevitable need for high-speed rail through the Calgary-Red Deer-Edmonton corridor when six to seven million Albertans eventually call that corridor their home,” the speech stated, its “and yes” perhaps showing awareness of the endless cycle of feasibility studies that keep putting off a transport idea that not even the Québec-Ontario corridor has achieved yet.
The last provincial study in 2014 concluded it wasn’t a good idea, with ridership not even making it a good investment by mid-century. But a 10-million-person province wasn’t envisioned in that report.
Smith informed reporters that when there is a large population, it suddenly becomes economically viable. She did not disclose the next steps in the planning process. However, proponents of a $9-billion line proposed by a private company in 2021 confirmed to CBC News that the proposal is still active.
If Alberta truly believes that its population will increase by more than two times in 27 years, the construction of railways will become less of a concern. Additionally, we would probably have to double our current housing supply of 1.8 million by that time as well. Therefore, the province’s declaration in the throne speech to support the development of 25,000 additional units by 2031 appears insignificant in comparison.
Canada and Alberta have set the year 2050 as a significant goal for achieving net-zero emissions and mitigating climate change.
Even without the additional five million residents, Alberta’s power-generating capacity is already projected to undergo a significant expansion to accommodate the widespread adoption of electric vehicles and heating.
Smith has expressed her determination to increase the number of natural gas generators in the province. This is in response to her recent prediction of frequent blackouts if Alberta is compelled to meet federal clean-electricity targets.
However, since there are currently no private businesses competing to suggest new plants, the premier expressed a readiness on Monday to provide government assistance in the generation market. She stated, “I am willing to do whatever it takes to facilitate the construction of natural gas plants,” without providing any details.
Despite the challenges faced by Alberta’s oil and natural gas sectors, the recent throne speech expressed unwavering confidence in the future. It stated that the government of Alberta is committed to establishing a strong connection between the terms “Alberta” and “energy” for future generations, and aims to make this association known worldwide.
It should be acknowledged that predicting the future is challenging — the speed of growth in Canada and Alberta after the pandemic caught demographers off guard.
Alberta has managed to double its population since 1986 — in 37 years — so maybe this 10-million vision is possible?
You do not need to be a long-term resident of Alberta to acknowledge its instability or understand the cycles of prosperity and decline that responsible provincial leaders would take into account, as well as the necessary precautionary measures to mitigate any associated risks.
Once a boomtown
Let’s take a clear look at predictions made ten years ago for Fort McMurray.
In 2014, a significant planning study projected that the population of the Wood Buffalo region would continue to grow as oilsands production increased, reaching 160,000 people by the beginning of this decade. However, due to the recession and the devastating wildfire, the latest population count in 2021 for Fort McMurray and the surrounding area was only 106,059, significantly lower than anticipated.
WATCH | A conversation with Premier Danielle Smith about the future of Alberta’s grid:
As the oilsands capital continued its seemingly interminable rise, the Fort McMurray airport spent $258 million on replacing its undersized old terminal with a new facility five times its size. Randy Bachman and Fred Turner played “You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet” at its grand opening, while airport leaders plotted another costly expansion right on its heels.
That terminal was built to welcome 1.5 million yearly passengers; in 2016, airport traffic fell below half that mark and kept sinking, down to 320,319 last year, airport statistics show.
A high-speed railway connection between Calgary and Edmonton has the potential to either be a wasteful investment or an environmentally-friendly mode of transportation commonly seen in many parts of the world. In a future where achieving net-zero emissions is crucial, it is possible that Alberta may still rely on fossil fuels to generate electricity for homes. Additionally, the United Conservatives may not necessarily be the beginning of a long-lasting political dynasty in Alberta, and it is conceivable that a teenager from Generation Z could become the province’s premier in 2050.
Perhaps not. The chances of accurately determining this at the moment are very slim, akin to a probability of one in 10 million.