Tough times remain even as turnaround year predicted for Alberta economy

Tough times remain even as turnaround year predicted for Alberta economy

The worst may be over for Alberta's economy but 2017 will still feel like "tough times" for many people living in the province, says the Conference Board of Canada's chief economist.

Craig Alexander discussed Alberta's economy — expected to lead the nation in growth this year at 2.8 per cent — during a conference in Calgary on Friday.

"We do have to keep it in perspective. For a lot of Albertans, it's still going to feel like tough times. You aren't even back to where you were before oil prices dropped," he told CBC News.

"The economy contracted by more than six per cent in the downturn. So good news that it's clawing its way out, but it's going to take quite some time before it gets back to where it was before the crash in oil prices."

The energy sector in Alberta is "coming to terms" with $55-a-barrel average oil prices and there will be an economic bump from rebuilding Fort McMurray after the wildfire, he said.

"I think 2017 is a turnaround year for the Alberta economy. After two years of very deep contraction, I think economic growth is finally going to re-emerge in the province. In fact, we think Alberta is going to be at the top of the provincial rankings in terms of economic growth," he said.

Looking ahead to 2018, the growth rate will fall back to about two per cent, about half of what it was during the province's economic boom, he said.

"The reality is Alberta is going to have to get used to the growth rates that the rest of Canada has been having for quite some time."

Non-residential vacancy rates remain a hangover from the recession. Office towers and commercial buildings stand empty and it could be a long time before construction of additional space is needed, he said.

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