Population, Labour and Income

Northern Alberta includes 60% of Alberta's landmass and is home to approximately 346,000 people; 9.5% of the province's population. Approximately 10% of the region’s population lives on Métis Settlements or First Nations Reserves. A further 13% of the off-reserve population identify as being of Aboriginal heritage.

In addition to the permanent population, there were an estimated 55,000 mobile workers in the region in 2011, primarily in the Rural Municipality of Wood Buffalo.  Of the mobile workers in the region, 5% live within the regin, approximately 47% live elsewhere in Alberta, 44% live elsewhere in Canada, and 4% live permanently outside of Canada.

Average individual employment income in Alberta’s north is estimated to be $70,000 in 2011, well above the provincial level of $54,000. And wages paid to mobile workers who live outside Alberta but elsewhere in Canada was totaled at an estimated $3 billion in 2011.

Key Industries

Oil sands, conventional oil, and natural gas continue to be significant economic drivers in the region and province. Conventional oil and gas and oil sands account for approximately 16% to 20% of the direct employment; 87% of investment; and 56% of GDP produced in the region.


Northern Alberta contributes 30% of Alberta's natural gas and conventional oil production. The region has almost all of Canada's oil sands development and is one of the world's two largest sources of bitumen. In 2011, total crude bitumen production in Alberta averaged about 1,744,600 barrels per day which has the potential to rise to rise to 6 million barrels per day by 2032. Of all the capital investment within the region from 2004-2010, 88% was in the mining, oil, and gas sector – primarily in oil sands projects. 

Forestry and Agriculture

Eighty-six percent of the province's potentially productive forests are found in Northern Alberta, sustaining Alberta's successful forest industry. From 2005-2009, forestry operations in Alberta’s north accounted for 69% of panelboard production; 93% of pulp and paper production; and 68% of sawmill production in Alberta. During this period northern ,throughput dropped by 9% compared to 13% of the rest of the province. Approximately one quarter of the lumber harvested in the province is exported to the rest of Canada and a further 30% is sold internationally.

From 2001-2010, northern Alberta accounted for 27% of the provincial crop production. In that same time, beef, bison, and elk production accounted for 22%, 71% and 58% of total provincial output respectively for livestock. Other major agricultural products include hogs, honey, wheat, barley, canola, alfalfa, and hay. Nearly 60% of the grain produced in the north of the province is exported outside Canada.


Northern Alberta services over 1.5 million visitors annually and generates over $332 million of revenues. Abundant lakes, forests and wildlife provide excellent resources for the growing northern tourism industry.

Northern Alberta's Contributions to the Economy

Estimates from 2008 data show companies and people in the NADC region:

  • Produced one quarter, or $13 billion, of the goods and services exported by Alberta to the rest of Canada;
  • Purchased one tenth, or $6 billion, of the goods and services imported into Alberta from the rest of Canada;
  • Produced one third, or $40 billion, of the goods and services exported by Alberta internationally; and
  • Purchased five percent, or $6 billion, of the goods and services imported into Alberta internationally.

Estimates from 2011 indicate:

  • Northern Alberta’s contribution to the provincial GDP in 2011 was $41 billion, 17% of Alberta's total.
  • The north’s contribution to federal government revenues (income tax and royalties) was $2 billion.
  • Wages paid to mobile workers in the region who live outside of Alberta but with Canada were $3 billion. These workers paid $862 million in federal and provincial income taxes in their home jurisdictions.
  • Corporate Income taxes from the region totaled approximately $611 million provincially and $922 federally.
  • Royalties on oil sands, conventional oil, and natural gas production within the region total approximately $5 billion. Taxes and royalties from within the region currently account for approximately 17% of the total revenue collected by the provincial government. This figure can potentially rise to 30% by the 2014-15 fiscal year.

A Look to the Future

Northern Alberta has many opportunities to continue growing the regional economy and increase the percentage of the economic benefits captured locally. Possible venues for change are:

  • Increasing the upgrading and refining capacity within Alberta
  • Training, educating, and offering other needed supports to the under-engaged and under-employed Aboriginal workforce throughout the region
  • Encouraging the expansion of the support industries related to oil sands construction and operations and
  • Diversifying the output of the forestry industry to include new products such as wood-based biofuels and engineered structural products.

Through research and innovation, there is enormous potential to add value to the region's primary products, diversify the economy, improve efficiency in processing resources, and explore other resource development opportunities.

Source: Contribution of the NADC Region to the Alberta and Canadian Economies. Nichols Applied Management, 2012.