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Conference Board expects B.C. to lead growth among the provinces this year

OTTAWA – A new report by the Conference Board of Canada says strong economic growth in British Columbia is expected to lead to a wave of migration from provinces hit by low oil prices.

Strength in housing, tourism and manufacturing is expected to help push the province to 2.7 per cent growth in 2016 — the highest of any province.

“This will encourage more Canadians — particularly those in the struggling oil-producing provinces — to move to British Columbia,” the report said.

The report released Tuesday forecasts net migration of roughly 20,000 people to B.C. this year as low oil and gas prices persist.

Alberta is expected to be hardest hit by the energy slump, with the economy forecast to contract by 1.1 per cent this year after a 2.9 per cent pullback last year.

“With oil prices continuing to feel the pressure of bloated global inventories and rising supply, the outlook is grim for the energy sector and Alberta’s economy as a whole,” said Marie-Christine Bernard, associate director of provincial forecasts at the Ottawa-based think tank.

“The impact on jobs, housing markets, consumer spending and supplier industries will result in continued recession for Alberta this year,” said Bernard.

Alberta’s unemployment rate rose to 7.4 per cent in January and the Conference Board says it will continue to rise in the first half of the year, before gradually falling as discouraged workers stop looking for work and more people leave the province.

Low oil and gas prices are also expected to weigh on Newfoundland and Labrador, which is expected to see no growth after a 5.4 per cent contraction last year, and Saskatchewan which is expected to creep ahead by 0.7 per cent after a contraction of 2.8 per cent in 2015.

The Conference Board said that aside from B.C., only Ontario, Manitoba and Nova Scotia are expected to grow by more than two per cent this year.

Ontario is projected to grow by 2.4 per cent, as the lower Canadian dollar and U.S. consumer demand is expected to help boost exports.