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Alberta Snapshot

A Quarterly Economic Update

A quarterly economic overview, the Alberta Snapshot 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 Alberta Snapshot, 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

In our previous two snapshots, we expressed uncertainty around the potential long-term and structural impacts of COVID on the economy, including mass bankruptcies, permanent shifts in consumer behaviour, and labour force scarring due to individuals out of the workforce for long periods of time.

However, there is good news: thanks to unprecedented levels of government support and the resiliency of Albertans, this has not come to fruition. In fact, in Alberta:

  • Consumer and business bankruptcies are low.
  • More businesses are opening or reopening than the number closing (as of the latest data available).
  • Albertans’ spending seems to reflect short-term responses to the virus and restrictions, as opposed to permanent shifts in behaviour. The economic crisis is the virus, rather than structural.
  • Alberta’s business leaders plan to hire more workers and invest more in the coming year.

The natural resource industry is in recovery too: the housing boom has increased prices for Alberta’s forest products; agriculture production has been very high; and though uncertainty remains, energy prices are strong with supply restraint by OPEC+ and growth in demand as the world becomes more mobile.

However, rising cases and emerging variants give cause for concern and uncertainty, impacting most those businesses already hard-hit by the pandemic—restaurants, hotels, airlines, and other close-contact services. Given the relative strength of other segments of the economy, close-contact services and education should be the utmost focus for the immediate term, especially given that low-income Albertans tend to be most affected.

Vaccination uptake, risk mitigation, and targeted income support will be the most fundamental policy levers over the next year so businesses can reopen more fully, kids can learn, and Albertans can get to work.


  • Broadly, employment in Alberta is looking up. Employment in resource sectors has recovered with the resurgence of strong energy prices, but employment in hard-hit service sectors remains 30% below pre-COVID levels. The biggest labour force concern is the increase in long-term unemployment among Albertans.
  • Some forward-looking signals are positive: Alberta businesses have avoided the mass closures that were initially feared, and businesses continued to open or re-open. Additionally, the sales and investment outlooks from Alberta business leaders are increasingly positive. More business leaders expect to invest in machinery and equipment, which is a key leading indicator for economic growth.
  • New manufacturing orders indicate that, while close-contact services continue to be hard hit, demand for goods is strong. Albertans are continuing to spend, with retail sales up 5% in January compared to a year ago. What Albertans spend on, however, has changed with being home more—and not all industries are experiencing a bounce back in sales (e.g., hair salons, restaurants, airlines).
  • Even though the way out of the crisis is becoming increasingly clear, rising COVID cases and emerging variants create cause for concern in the short term. Vaccination uptake, risk mitigation, and targeted income support for Canadians and businesses will be important over the next few years as Canada navigates its way back to public and economic health.

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

Business Council of Alberta. April 2021.
Alberta Snapshot: A Quarterly Economic Update.


Alberta's Employment Recovery

Now that resource industries are doing well, Alberta has just one crisis: the virus

Employment in Alberta’s resource industries has, essentially, fully recovered. However, the same is not true of those businesses most directly impacted by COVID, especially services that require close contact or travel. Employment in those industries remains nearly 30% below pre-pandemic levels. And Albertans in these sectors are faring worse than they are elsewhere in Canada—nation-wide, employment in these sectors is down by 18%. This means Alberta’s biggest barrier in economic recovery is the virus itself.

The kind of investment that indicates business confidence and enables growth is coming

Our Business Expectations Survey of member CEOs shows business leaders’ sales outlooks have improved markedly as of March and, with that, more business leaders plan to increase spending on things like machinery and equipment over the next year than those that plan to decrease their spending.

Alberta Retail Sales
GDP % and Growth Forecast

Albertans are spending where they can and on the kinds of things they can enjoy at home

Albertans continue to spend during the pandemic, with retail sales up 5% in January compared to a year ago. Stores where consumers tend to spend the most—car dealers, grocery stores, and general merchandise stores such as Costco—all saw sales increase. The shifts in spending, however, show where and how Albertans spend has changed with being home more. Albertans are spending less in gas stations and clothing stores and more on furniture and office supplies. 

Tourism is likely to be slowest to recover, depending on international travel policies

Apart from a few outliers, most countries remain in the early stages of vaccination. Based on share of the population with one dose, Canada currently ranks 4th among G20 countries at about 20%, still a long shot from broad immunity. Due to the gap between a couple of big players—namely, the US and the UK—and the rest, policies to enable or discourage international travel could begin to play a large role in economic recovery, especially for countries dependent upon tourism.

Business Openings and Closings

Explore Deeper: Employment by Province

There are concerns for the lowest income Albertans. They are the only group who has, on average, sunk deeper into debt during the pandemic. They are more likely to be employed in the hardest hit sectors and most likely to suffer the labour market scarring of long-term unemployment. These challenges require focus and help.

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 Alberta Snapshot 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

Media Inquiries: media@businesscouncilab.com

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