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The Outlook

A Quarterly Economic Update for Alberta

A snapshot of the Alberta economy, The Outlook helps you make sense of where Alberta’s economy is headed.

We know there is so much economic data and information out there, and that you want a way to see it all in a snapshot with a view looking forward and not just back. That’s why we created The Outlook, a quarterly executive summary that helps you keep the pulse on what is happening in Alberta’s economy—the good, bad, and urgent.

We use a wide and diverse range of indicators including data on jobs, consumer spending and debt, business openings and closings, population growth, economic forecasts, and more to assess and synthesize economic activity, business conditions, and social well-being in a way that is meaningful to Albertans and Alberta businesses.

Explore the latest update through the graphs below or by downloading the PDF report.

The pulse of Alberta’s economy, delivered right to your inbox every quarter.

Key Insights

This issue of The Outlook paints a picture of a province struggling to get back on its feet. The oil price crash earlier in the year, combined with the COVID economic shutdown, and uncertainty about the future of natural resources in the province have created a perfect storm—hitting Alberta when it was already reeling from five years of relatively sluggish economic growth.

However, Albertans are resilient. Businesses are re-opening; the province is developing recovery/diversification plans; and there are pockets of strength in areas like forestry and agri-food. The road to recovery will be long but Albertans are accustomed to wild swings in economic fortunes and have a track record of seizing opportunity when they see it.


  • Albertans are getting back to work: About 65% of Albertans who lost work due to COVID are back at work. However, employment levels are expected to dip over the next 12 months. Nearly half—47%—of businesses expect to have fewer employees than they do today.
  • Consumer spending in Alberta has returned to pre-shutdown levels. However, as job growth slows, retail activity will remain flat through the end of the year.
  • Stronger recovery than initially thought: The International Monetary Fund’s October global economic growth forecast projects a less severe decline and a stronger recovery in 2021 for Canada than previous forecasts. By the end of next year, GDP will reach 98% of 2019 levels.
  • More businesses are opening than closing. According to the latest month of data, about 7,400 businesses opened or re-opened their doors in Alberta, compared to about 6,900 that shut down: a net gain of 414. Only BC saw a larger net increase in operating businesses.

If you would like to use this report in a publication, please use the following citation.

Business Council of Alberta. October 2020.
The Outlook: A Quarterly Economic Update for Alberta.


Alberta's Employment Recovery

Albertans getting back to work

The Alberta economy added 38,200 net new jobs in September, an increase of about 1.8% compared to August. This increase was slightly below the national average of 2.1% and marks the fourth time in the last five months that Alberta has lagged the national average in terms of job recovery. As a result, Alberta had regained just 65% of the jobs lost during the first two months of the shutdown compared to 76% nation-wide.

Consumers spending again, for now 

Consumer spending in Alberta has rebounded since the economic shutdown as government supports have bolstered incomes and reduced personal debt across the country. After falling by nearly 28% from February to April, retail sales activity has snapped back and is now tracking slightly ahead of 2019 levels. Looking ahead, sustained increases will hinge on consumer confidence and virus containment, job creation, and income growth rather than government supports.

Alberta Retail Sales
GDP % and Growth Forecast

Stronger recovery than initially thought

The IMF’s October global economic growth forecast projects a less severe decline and a stronger recovery in 2021 than the previous June forecast. The IMF forecasts that, by the end of next year, GDP in Canada will be at about 98% of 2019 levels while the US will be slightly higher at about 99% of 2019 levels. As a frame of reference, it took three years for US GDP to recover from the financial crisis.


Entrepreneurs forging ahead

The economic shutdown caused the number of business establishments operating in Alberta to fall by 11% from February to May. While a significant loss to the economy, this share was lower than the national average (13%). The good news is that in June, 7,400 businesses opened or re-opened their doors in Alberta, compared to 6,900 that shut down. Only BC saw a larger net increase in operating businesses.

Business Openings and Closings

Explore Deeper: Business Openings & Closings

Use this interactive graph to explore business openings and closing across Canada, including regions and industries.

Click the arrow in the grey bar to expand the graph.

Archived Reports

All past issues of the Outlook will be available for download below.


This report is produced by and the property of the Business Council of Alberta. For more information, please contact:

Mike Holden, Vice President, Policy & Chief Economist
Twitter: @MHoldenAB

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