Bridging Alberta’s Reputation-Reality Divide

By Janet Lane, Director of the Human Capital Centre, Canada West Foundation; David Finch, Professor and Senior Fellow, Institute for Community Prosperity, Mount Royal University; and Nicholas Newnes, Talent Strategy Specialist, Calgary Economic Development

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“You’re never going to kill storytelling, because it’s built in the human plan. We come with it.”
— Margaret Atwood


In 2021, Canada West Foundation led a study to examine why, after decades of net positive migration, Alberta had experienced net negative youth migration for the previous five years.

We found that in addition to economic and career considerations, youth consider other factors that relate to livability including clean, safe communities, access to transportation, vibrancy, inclusivity and active experiences.

And we discovered, through surveys and focus groups, that youth did not perceive that Alberta offers diverse job opportunities and career paths. Nor do they see the province as vibrant or inclusive. But these perceptions do not always mirror reality. For instance, participants estimated between 40 and 70 per cent of Albertans work in oil and gas extraction. The reality is under seven per cent.

Changing these perceptions, and attracting or retaining youth, will require telling new stories about Alberta – to ourselves and the world. This What Now? brief looks at the role stories play in shaping a society and offers recommendations on how Albertans can begin to reshape the narratives that define us. It also provides examples of how other cities and regions have changed their brands by identifying pre-existing strengths and building stories around them.

We consider this What Now?  a start on the path for Albertans to tell the stories that reflect the reality of modern Alberta and resonate with young people.