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Alberta is calling. Why not Saskatchewan?

John Cairns’ News Watch: Time for Saskatchewan to sell itself, and grow its population even more.
OIl Show premiers-1
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney is telling Canadians “Alberta is calling.” Maybe Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe should do the same for Saskatchewan.

REGINA — Last week, Statistics Canada released some population numbers for the province, numbers which have prompted this rant that has been percolating in my mind for a long time.

Numbers were released from the province which showed Saskatchewan grew by a net 6,465 people in the second quarter of 2022, which was touted as the largest population jump for the province for any three-month period since Statistics Canada started releasing quarterly population counts in 1971.

"We saw more population growth in the last quarter than any quarter in the history of Saskatchewan," said Trade and Export Development Minister Jeremy Harrison at a media availability last week. “That is very good news.” 

But I notice a lot of people were making a big deal out of another statistic: the net migration to other provinces. For the period 2021-22, the number of people coming into Saskatchewan from other provinces was 15,555, and the number going out was 23,384, for a net migration loss of 7,829.

What was funny was that people on Twitter were trying to argue this meant Saskatchewan was somehow losing population, when in fact the total number of people had gone up. The population of Saskatchewan is at 1,194,803, an all-time high. Anyone who argues otherwise clearly needs to re-enrol in math class and learn how to count.

The reason the population is up is because Saskatchewan had added so many people through international immigration. That more than makes up for the loss of people to other provinces in net migration.

That’s the good news. What this tells me is that our province is doing a great job convincing people around the world to move to Saskatchewan. Our marketing efforts internationally and efforts to open up trade offices are clearly making an impact.

But Saskatchewan clearly has room for improvement when it comes to attracting people from other provinces within our own country. 

Part of the reason I say this is because I’ve noticed the well-publicized out-migration of people in the United States, heading from one state to another. 

It’s sort of a reverse "Beverly Hillbillies" type of situation happening there. In the old days, Jed Clampett would be moving his oil-rich family out from the sticks to the good life in Beverly Hills. Now, they’d be looking to get the heck out, back to the heartland of America where it isn’t such an expensive and taxed-to-death rat-race.

The out-migration of people out of New York and California to other states has been well publicized. People have been escaping the high taxes, high costs of living, unaffordable housing, high crime and general social problems of those places. California’s biggest cities in particular have a huge homeless situation to deal with, and lots of drug problems.

Instead of continuing to put up with life in New York or California, frustrated residents have been moving to a number of other states such as Florida, Texas, Tennessee, or elsewhere. These states have attracted new residents due to more affordable housing, less gridlock and far lower costs of doing business including no state income tax in some places.

I look at Canada and wonder why we don’t have more of that happening here. There are places in Canada where the quality of life is as flat-out bad as what’s going right now in New York and in California.

Look no further than Ontario as “Exhibit A” of a province where life is increasingly terrible for residents. I know something about Ontario because I lived in metro Toronto for a good period of time. The downsides of life there have always been obvious: the gridlock; the pollution; the social problems; the general expense of living there.

Ever since I left, it seems like things have become worse. In recent years, gun violence has been out of control. Gridlock and pollution are as bad as ever. During COVID-19, the place also had the most draconian restrictions in the country, shutting down in-person dining at restaurants across the city.

Worst of all, the cost of living has skyrocketed, and this is the real deal breaker for most people. Do you know the benchmark price to buy a home is in Toronto, according to the August numbers from Toronto Real Estate Board? It’s $1.12 million. And for those renting, it’s getting to be something like $2,500 a month.

Not even the rich Clampetts can afford Toronto, now, and I guarantee you, Toronto ain’t Beverly Hills.

The situation is just as bad, if not worse, in Vancouver, which is infamous for house price insanity, even worse traffic and drug addicts hanging out all the way down East Hastings Street. That city's drug problems make our addictions issues look manageable by comparison.

You look at what's happening in all of these increasingly unliveable places, and there really is an opportunity for Saskatchewan to sell itself as a place to relocate to. Seriously, it wouldn’t take much of a selling job. 

Our cost of living is much lower. The August benchmark price of a house in Regina was $327,000. That’s less than 30 per cent what you would pay in Toronto, and in the smaller communities it’s even lower than that. You don’t have the traffic problems that plague Toronto or Vancouver. You also don’t have the smog. Yes, crime can be an issue in Saskatchewan, but the gun violence isn’t nearly as bad and you don’t see as many people doing aggressive panhandling in the streets, and certainly not the extent of drug problems that you see in Vancouver. The neighbourhoods here are as peaceful and quiet as they are in Ontario or British Columbia — maybe even more so — and you have the same big box stores, restaurant chains and movie theatres. You even have pro sports teams.

People ought to be escaping Ontario in droves for Saskatchewan! In fact, people in Ontario are leaving. Their net migration last year was a minus 47,212. 

Where the heck are they going, then? I’ll tell you one place they are, and that’s Alberta. Last year their net migration was 21,660, the best in the country.

This brings me to my main point: we need to do in Saskatchewan what Alberta’s doing to attract people. 

During these last few weeks of Jason Kenney’s reign as premier, Alberta has been going around tooting its own horn as a place for Canadians to relocate to. 

Their new slogan is “Alberta is calling.” Their sales pitch is the same one that Saskatchewan could easily promote for itself: more affordability, fewer taxes and regulations, better living in general.

"Affordable, friendly and rich in opportunity, Alberta is the answer to building your future." That's what it says on their website.

Personally, I’m kind of annoyed that we’re sitting back in Saskatchewan and letting Alberta get away with their pitch to convince Ontario folks to move there. It’s not like Alberta is so much better. Anyone who knows about Calgary knows life there can be as big a rat race as anywhere else. But it is a more affordable rat race than Toronto. Also, if we are not careful, Alberta could end up stealing Saskatchewan residents like they used to do in the old days.

So, why not us? Why not “Saskatchewan is calling?”

We should launch our own comprehensive marketing and social media campaign to attract people from the rest of Canada, not just one aimed to international immigrants. Saskatchewan needs to get its marketing machine going to promote the obvious cost of living advantages and other selling points of life here, for no other reason than to counter some of the preconceived notions out there about the place. It's not all tumbleweeds out here, folks.

It shouldn’t stop there. The province should come up with a strategy to convince businesses and head offices to relocate to the province. I see this happening in the U.S. states all the time, where states are trying to out-compete each other to attract new companies. Find a way to make Saskatchewan the most competitive, pro-business jurisdiction in the country.

This is not to say there aren’t good things happening in the province right now. We’re seeing more resource revenues and jobs are coming back, and we are certainly gaining in population despite what some people on social media claim to say. This province is doing a few things right, but we need to take it to the next level and sell people in the rest of Canada that this is the place to come to. Because, trust me, those folks are in the mood to look for some good alternatives. 

It’s time for Saskatchewan to ring those phones and start calling, too.

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