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Alberta

[al-bur-tuh]

Alberta is one of Canada's prairie provinces. It became a province on September 1, 1905.

Alberta is located in western Canada, bounded by the provinces of British Columbia to the west and Saskatchewan to the east, the Northwest Territories to the north, and the U.S. state of Montana to the south. Alberta is one of three Canadian provinces and territories to border only a single U.S. state (the others being New Brunswick and Yukon). It is also one of only two Canadian provinces that are landlocked (the other being Saskatchewan).

The capital city of Alberta is Edmonton, located just south of the centre of the province. Roughly 300 km south of the capital is Calgary, Alberta's largest city and a major distribution and transportation hub as well as one of Canada's major commerce centers. Edmonton is the primary supply and service hub for Canada's oil sands and other northern resource industries. According to recent population estimates, these two metropolitan areas have now both exceeded 1 million people. Other municipalities in the province include Red Deer, Lethbridge, Medicine Hat, Fort McMurray, Grande Prairie, Camrose, Lloydminster, Brooks, Wetaskiwin, Banff, Cold Lake, and Jasper.

Since December 14, 2006, the Premier of the province is Hon. Ed Stelmach, Progressive Conservative.

Alberta is named after Princess Louise Caroline Alberta (1848–1939), the fourth daughter of Queen Victoria and her husband, Prince Albert. Princess Louise was the wife of the Marquess of Lorne, Governor General of Canada from 1878 to 1883. Lake Louise, the village of Caroline, and Mount Alberta were also named in honour of Princess Louise.

Geography

Alberta is located in western Canada and covers an area of , an area about 5% smaller than Texas or 20% larger than France. This makes it the fourth largest province after Quebec, Ontario, and British Columbia. To the south, the province borders on the 49th parallel north, separating it from the U.S. state of Montana, while on the north the 60th parallel north divides it from the Northwest Territories. To the east the 110th meridian west separates it from the province of Saskatchewan, while on the west its boundary with British Columbia follows the 120th meridian west south from the Northwest Territories at 60°N until it reaches the Great Divide at the Rocky Mountains, and from that point follows the line of peaks marking the continental divide in a generally southeasterly direction until it reaches the Montana border at 49°N.

The province extends north to south and east to west at its maximum width. Its highest point is at the summit of Mount Columbia in the Rocky Mountains along the southwest border, while its lowest point is on the Slave River in Wood Buffalo National Park in the northeast.

With the exception of the southeastern section, the province has adequate water resources. Alberta contains numerous rivers and lakes used for swimming, water skiing, fishing and a full range of other water sports. There are three large lakes and a multitude of smaller lakes less than 260 km² each. Part of Lake Athabasca ( km²) lies in the province of Saskatchewan. Lake Claire ( km²) lies just west of Lake Athabasca in Wood Buffalo National Park. Lesser Slave Lake ( km²) is northwest of Edmonton. The longest river in Alberta is the Athabasca River which travels from the Columbia Icefield in the Rocky Mountains to Lake Athabasca.

Alberta's capital city, Edmonton, is located approximately in the geographic centre of the province, with most of western Canada's oil refinery capacity located nearby, in close proximity to most of Canada's largest oil fields. Edmonton is the most northerly major city in Canada, and serves as a gateway and hub for resource development in northern Canada. Alberta's other major city, Calgary, is located approximately south of Edmonton and north of Montana, surrounding by extensive ranching country. Almost 75% of the province's population lives in the Calgary-Edmonton Corridor, in and between the two major cities.

Most of the northern half of the province is boreal forest, while the Rocky Mountains along the southwestern boundary are largely forested. The southern quarter of the province is prairie, ranging from shortgrass prairie in the southeastern corner to mixed grass prairie in an arc to the west and north of it. The central aspen parkland region extending in a broad arc between the prairies and the forests, from Calgary, north to Edmonton, and then east to Lloydminster, contains the most fertile soil in the province and most of the population. Much of the unforested part of Alberta is given over either to grain or to dairy farming, with mixed farming more common in the north and centre, while ranching and irrigated agriculture predominate in the south.

The Alberta badlands are located in southeastern Alberta, where the Red Deer River crosses the flat prairie and farmland, and features deep gorges and striking landforms. Dinosaur Provincial Park, near Brooks, Alberta, showcases the badlands terrain, desert flora, and remnants from Alberta's past when dinosaurs roamed the then lush landscape.

Alberta is one of only two Canadian provinces to have no maritime coast (the other being the neighbouring province of Saskatchewan.)

Climate

Alberta has a dry continental climate with warm summers and cold winters. The province is open to cold arctic weather systems from the north, which often produce extremely cold conditions in winter. As the fronts between the air masses shift north and south across Alberta, temperature can change rapidly. Arctic air masses in the winter produce extreme minimum temperatures varying from in northern Alberta to in southern Alberta. In the summer, continental air masses produce maximum temperatures from in the mountains to in southern Alberta.

Because Alberta extends for over from north to south, it is natural that its climate should vary considerably. Average temperatures in January range from in the south to in the north, and in July from in the south to in the north. The climate is also influenced by the presence of the Rocky Mountains to the southwest, which disrupt the flow of the prevailing westerly winds and cause them to drop most of their moisture on the western slopes of the mountain ranges before reaching the province, casting a rain shadow over much of Alberta. The northerly location and isolation from the weather systems of the Pacific Ocean cause Alberta to have a dry climate with little moderation from the ocean. Annual precipitation ranges from in the southeast to in the north, except in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains where rainfall can reach annually. In the summer, the average daytime temperatures range from around in the Rocky Mountain valleys and far north to near in the dry prairie of the southeast. The northern and western parts of the province experience higher rainfall and lower evaporation rates caused by cooler summer temperatures. The south and east-central portions are prone to drought-like conditions sometimes persisting for several years, although even these areas can receive heavy precipitation. Alberta is a sunny province. Annual bright sunshine totals range between 1900 and 2500 hours per year. Northern Alberta receives about 18 hours of daylight in the summer. The long summer days make summer the sunniest season of the year in Alberta.

In southwestern Alberta, the winter cold is frequently interrupted by warm, dry chinook winds blowing from the mountains, which can propel temperatures upward from frigid conditions to well above the freezing point in a very short period of time. During one chinook recorded at Pincher Creek, temperatures soared from to in one hour. The region around Lethbridge has the most chinooks, averaging 30 to 35 chinook days per year, while Calgary has a white Christmas only 59% of the time as a result of these winds.

Northern Alberta is mostly covered by boreal forest and has fewer frost-free days than southern Alberta due to its subarctic climate. The agricultural area of southern Alberta has a semiarid climate because the annual precipitation is less than the water that evaporates or is used by plants. The southeastern corner of Alberta, known as the Palliser Triangle, experiences greater summer heat and lower rainfall than the rest of the province, and as a result suffers frequent crop yield problems and occasional severe droughts. Western Alberta is protected by the mountains and enjoys the mild temperatures brought by winter chinook winds. Central and parts of northwestern Alberta in the Peace River region are largely aspen parkland, a biome transitional between prairie to the south and boreal forest to the north. After southern Ontario, Central Alberta is the most likely region in Canada to experience tornadoes. Thunderstorms, some of them severe, are frequent in the summer, especially in central and southern Alberta. The region surrounding the Calgary-Edmonton Corridor is notable for having the highest frequency of hail in Canada, which is caused by orographic lifting from the nearby Rocky Mountains, enhancing the updraft/downdraft cycle necessary for the formation of hail.

History

The province of Alberta, as far north as about 53° north latitude, was a part of Rupert's Land from the time of the incorporation of the Hudson's Bay Company (1670). After the arrival in the North-West of the French around 1731 they settled the prairies of the west, establishing communities such as Lac La Biche and Bonnyville. Fort La Jonquière was established near what is now Calgary in 1752. The North West Company of Montreal occupied the northern part of Alberta territory before the Hudson's Bay Company arrived from Hudson Bay to take possession of it. The first explorer of the Athabasca region was Peter Pond, who, on behalf of the North West Company of Montreal, built Fort Athabasca on Lac La Biche in 1778. Roderick Mackenzie built Fort Chipewyan on Lake Athabasca ten years later in 1788. His cousin, Sir Alexander Mackenzie followed the North Saskatchewan River to its northernmost point near Edmonton, then setting northward on foot, trekked to the Athabasca River, which he followed to Lake Athabasca. It was there he discovered the mighty outflow river which bears his name—the Mackenzie River—which he followed to its outlet in the Arctic Ocean. Returning to Lake Athabasca, he followed the Peace River upstream, eventually reaching the Pacific Ocean, and so he became the first white man to cross the North American continent north of Mexico.

The district of Alberta was created as part of the North-West Territories in 1882. As settlement increased, local representatives to the North-West Legislative Assembly were added. After a long campaign for autonomy, in 1905 the district of Alberta was enlarged and given provincial status, with the election of Alexander Cameron Rutherford as the first premier.

Demographics

Alberta has enjoyed a relatively high rate of growth in recent years, mainly because of its burgeoning economy. Between 2003 and 2004, the province had high birthrates (on par with some larger provinces such as British Columbia), relatively high immigration, and a high rate of interprovincial migration when compared to other provinces. Approximately 81% of the population live in urban areas and only about 19% live in rural areas. The Calgary-Edmonton Corridor is the most urbanized area in the province and is one of the most densely populated areas of Canada. Many of Alberta's cities and towns have also experienced very high rates of growth in recent history. Over the past century, Alberta's population rose from 73,022 in 1901 to 2,974,807 in 2001 and 3,290,350 according to the 2006 census.

Languages

The 2006 census found that English, with 2,576,670 native speakers, was the mother tongue of 79.99% of Albertans. The next most common mother tongues were Chinese languages with 97,275 native-speakers (3.02%); followed by German with 84,505 native-speakers (2.62%); and French with 61,225 (1.90%); then Punjabi 36,320 (1.13%); Tagalog 29,740 (0.92%); Ukrainian 29,455 (0.91%); Spanish 29,125 (0.90%); and Polish 21,990 (0.68%); Arabic 20,495 (0.64%); Dutch 19,980 (0.62%); and Vietnamese 19,350 (0.60%). The most common aboriginal language is Cree 17,215 (0.53%). Other common mother tongues include Italian with 13,095 speakers (0.41%); Urdu with 11,275 (0.35%); and Korean with 10,845 (0.33%); then Hindi 8,985 (0.28%); Persian 7,700 (0.24%); Portuguese 7,205 (0.22%); and Hungarian 6,770 (0.21%).
(Figures shown are for the number of single language responses and the percentage of total single-language responses.)

Ethnicity

Although often thought of as being predominantly of English origin, Alberta has considerable ethnic diversity. In line with the rest of Canada, many immigrants originated from Scotland, Ireland and Wales, but large numbers also came from other parts of Europe, notably Germans, French, Ukrainians and Scandinavians. According to Statistics Canada, Alberta is home to the second highest proportion (two percent) of Francophones in western Canada (after Manitoba). Many of Alberta's French-speaking residents live in the central and northwestern regions of the province. As reported in the 2001 census, the Chinese represented nearly four percent of Alberta's population, and East Indians represented more than two percent. Both Edmonton and Calgary have historic Chinatowns, and Calgary has Canada's third largest Chinese community. The Chinese presence began with workers employed in the building of the Canadian Pacific Railway in the 1880s. Aboriginal Albertans make up approximately three percent of the population.

In the 2001 Canadian census, 387,445 Albertans (13.17%) identified themselves as "Canadian" while 426,035 (14.49%) identified some other ethnicity as well as "Canadian", making a total of 813,485 (27.66%) for "Canadian". The other most commonly reported ethnicities were: 753,185 English (25.61%); and 576,350 German (19.60%); 556,575 Scottish (18.92%); 461,065 Irish (15.68%); 332,675 French (11.31%); 285,725 Ukrainian (9.71%); 149,225 Dutch (5.07%); 144,040 North American Indian (4.90%); 137,625 Polish (4.68%); 120,050 Norwegian (4.08%); and 108,050 Chinese (3.67%). (Each person could choose more than one ethnicity.)

Amongst those of British origins, the Scots have had a particularly strong influence on place-names, with the names of many cities and towns including Calgary, Airdrie, Canmore, and Banff) having Scottish origins.

Religion

As of the Canada 2001 Census the largest religious group was Roman Catholic, representing 25.7% of the population. Alberta had the second highest percentage of non-religious residents in Canada (after British Columbia) at 23.1% of the population. Of the remainder, 13.5% of the population identified themselves as belonging to the United Church of Canada, while 5.9% were Anglican. Lutherans made up 4.8% of the population while Baptists comprised 2.5%. The remainder had a wide variety of different religious affiliations, although no individual group constituted more than 2% of the population.

The Mormons of Alberta reside primarily in the extreme south of the province and made up 1.7% of the population. Alberta has a population of Hutterites, a communal Anabaptist sect similar to the Mennonites (Hutterites represented 0.4% of the population while Mennonites were 0.8%), and has a significant population of Seventh-day Adventists at 0.3%. Alberta is home to several Byzantine Rite Churches as part of the legacy of Eastern European immigration, including the Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of Edmonton, and the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Canada's Western Diocese which is based in Edmonton.

Muslims, Sikhs, and Hindus live in Alberta. Muslims constituted 1.7% of the population, Sikhs 0.8% and Hindus 0.5%. Many of these are recent immigrants, but others have roots that go back to the first settlers of the prairies. North America's oldest mosque is located in Edmonton.

Jews constituted 0.4% of Alberta's population. Most of Alberta's 13,000 Jews live in Calgary (7,500) and Edmonton (5,000).

Economy

Alberta's economy is one of the strongest in Canada, supported by the burgeoning petroleum industry and to a lesser extent, agriculture and technology. The per capita GDP in 2007 was by far the highest of any province in Canada at C$74,825. This was 61% higher than the national average of C$46,441 and more than twice that of some of the Atlantic provinces. In 2006 the deviation from the national average was the largest for any province in Canadian history. According to the 2006 census, the median annual family income after taxes was $70,986 in Alberta (compared to $60,270 in Canada as a whole).

The Calgary-Edmonton Corridor is the most urbanized region in the province and one of the densest in Canada. The region covers a distance of roughly 400 kilometres north to south. In 2001, the population of the Calgary-Edmonton Corridor was 2.15 million (72% of Alberta's population). It is also one of the fastest growing regions in the country. A 2003 study by TD Bank Financial Group found the corridor to be the only Canadian urban centre to amass a U.S. level of wealth while maintaining a Canadian style quality of life, offering universal health care benefits. The study found that GDP per capita in the corridor was 10% above average U.S. metropolitan areas and 40% above other Canadian cities at that time.

According to the Fraser Institute, Alberta also has very high levels of economic freedom. It is by far the most free economy in Canada, and is rated as the 2nd most free economy of U.S. states and Canadian provinces.

Industry

Alberta is the largest producer of conventional crude oil, synthetic crude, natural gas and gas products in the country. Alberta is the world’s 2nd largest exporter of natural gas and the 4th largest producer. Two of the largest producers of petrochemicals in North America are located in central and north central Alberta. In both Red Deer and Edmonton, world class polyethylene and vinyl manufacturers produce products shipped all over the world, and Edmonton's oil refineries provide the raw materials for a large petrochemical industry to the east of Edmonton.

The Athabasca Oil Sands (sometimes known as the Athabasca Tar sands) have estimated non-conventional oil reserves approximately equal to the conventional oil reserves of the rest of the world, estimated to be 1.6 trillion barrels (254 km³). With the development of new extraction methods such as steam assisted gravity drainage, which was developed in Alberta, bitumen and synthetic crude oil can be produced at costs close to those of conventional crude. Many companies employ both conventional strip mining and non-conventional in situ methods to extract the bitumen from the oil sands. With current technology and at current prices, about 315 billion barrels (50 km³) of bitumen are recoverable. Fort McMurray, one of Canada's fastest growing cities, has grown enormously in recent years because of the large corporations which have taken on the task of oil production. As of late 2006 there were over $100 billion in oil sands projects under construction or in the planning stages in northeastern Alberta.

Another factor determining the viability of oil extraction from the Tar Sands is the price of oil. The oil price increases since 2003 have made it more than profitable to extract this oil, which in the past would give little profit or even a loss.

With concerted effort and support from the provincial government, several high-tech industries have found their birth in Alberta, notably patents related to interactive liquid crystal display systems. With a growing economy, Alberta has several financial institutions dealing with civil and private funds.

Agriculture and forestry

Agriculture has a significant position in the province's economy. The province has over three million head of cattle, and Alberta beef has a healthy worldwide market. Nearly one half of all Canadian beef is produced in Alberta. Alberta is one of the prime producers of plains buffalo (bison) for the consumer market. Sheep for wool and mutton are also raised.

Wheat and canola are primary farm crops, with Alberta leading the provinces in spring wheat production; other grains are also prominent. Much of the farming is dryland farming, often with fallow seasons interspersed with cultivation. Continuous cropping (in which there is no fallow season) is gradually becoming a more common mode of production because of increased profits and a reduction of soil erosion. Across the province, the once common grain elevator is slowly being lost as rail lines are decreasing; farmers typically truck the grain to central points.

Alberta is the leading beekeeping province of Canada, with some beekeepers wintering hives indoors in specially designed barns in southern Alberta, then migrating north during the summer into the Peace River valley where the season is short but the working days are long for honeybees to produce honey from clover and fireweed. Hybrid canola also requires bee pollination, and some beekeepers service this need.

The vast northern forest reserves of softwood allow Alberta to produce large quantities of lumber, oriented strand board (OSB) and plywood, and several plants in northern Alberta supply North America and the Pacific Rim nations with bleached wood pulp and newsprint.

Tourism

Alberta has been a tourist destination from the early days of the twentieth century, with attractions including outdoor locales for skiing, hiking and camping, shopping locales such as West Edmonton Mall,Calgary Stampede, outdoor festivals, professional athletic events, international sporting competitions such as the Commonwealth Games and Olympic Games, as well as more eclectic attractions. There are also natural attractions like Elk Island National Park, Wood Buffalo National Park, and the Columbia Icefield.

According to Alberta Economic Development, Edmonton and Calgary both host over four million visitors annually. Banff, Jasper and the Rocky Mountains are visited by about three million people per year.

Alberta's Rocky Mountains include well known tourist destinations Banff National Park and Jasper National Park. The two mountain parks are connected by the scenic Icefields Parkway. Banff is located 128 km west of Calgary on Highway 1, and Jasper is located 366 km west of Edmonton on Yellowhead Highway. Five of Canada's fourteen UNESCO World heritage sites are located within the province: Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks, Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park, Wood Buffalo National Park, Dinosaur Provincial Park and Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump.

About 1.2 million people pass through the gates of Calgary's world-famous Stampede, a celebration of Canada's own Wild West and the cattle ranching industry. About 800,000 people enjoy Edmonton's Capital Ex (formerly Klondike Days). Edmonton was the gateway to the only all-Canadian route to the Yukon gold fields, and the only route which did not require gold-seekers to travel the exhausting and dangerous Chilkoot Pass.

Another tourist destination that draws more than 650,000 visitors each year is the Drumheller Valley, located northeast of Calgary. Drumheller, "Dinosaur Capital of The World", offers the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology. Drumheller also had a rich mining history being one of Western Canada's largest coal producers during the war years. The Canadian Badlands has much to offer in the way of attractions, cultural events, celebrations, accommodations and service.

Located in east-central Alberta is Alberta Prairie Railway Excursions, a popular tourist attraction operated out of Stettler. It boasts one of the few operable steam trains in the world, offering trips through the rolling prairie scenery. Alberta Prairie Railway Excursions caters to tens of thousands of visitors every year.

Alberta is an important destination for tourists who love to ski and hike; Alberta boasts several world-class ski resorts such as Sunshine Village, Lake Louise, Marmot Basin, Norquay and Nakiska. Hunters and fishermen from around the world are able to take home impressive trophies and tall tales from their experiences in Alberta's wilderness.

Taxation

The province's revenue comes mainly from the taxation of oil, natural gas, beef, softwood lumber, and wheat, but also includes a tax on corporate and personal income, gaming revenue, and grants from the federal government primarily for infrastructure projects. Albertans are the lowest-taxed people in Canada, and Alberta is the only province in Canada without a provincial sales tax (though residents are still subject to the federal sales tax, the Goods and Services Tax). Alberta's municipalities and school jurisdictions have their own governments which (usually) work in co-operation with the provincial government.

Transportation

Alberta has over 180,000 km of highways and roads, of which nearly 50,000 km are paved. The main north-south corridor is Highway 2, which begins south of Cardston at the Carway border crossing and is part of the CANAMEX Corridor. Highway 4, which effectively extends Interstate 15 into Alberta and is the busiest U.S. gateway to the province, begins at the Coutts border crossing and ends at Lethbridge. Highway 3 joins Lethbridge to Fort Macleod and links Highway 4 to Highway 2. Highway 2 travels northward through Fort Macleod, Calgary, Red Deer, and Edmonton before dividing into two highways. The section of Highway 2 between Calgary and Edmonton has been named the Queen Elizabeth II Highway to commemorate the visit of the monarch in 2005. Past Edmonton, one branch continues northwest as Highway 43 into Grande Prairie and the Peace River Country; the other (Highway 63) travels northeast to Fort McMurray, the location of the Athabasca Oil Sands. Highway 2 is supplemented by two more highways that run parallel to it: Highway 22, west of highway 2, known as "the cowboy trail," and Highway 21, east of highway 2.

Alberta has two main east-west corridors. The southern corridor, part of the Trans-Canada Highway system, enters the province near Medicine Hat, runs westward through Calgary, and leaves Alberta through Banff National Park. The northern corridor, also part of the Trans-Canada network but known alternatively as the Yellowhead Highway (Highway 16), runs west from Lloydminster in eastern Alberta, through Edmonton and Jasper National Park into British Columbia. One of the most scenic drives is along the Icefields Parkway, which runs for 228 km between Jasper and Lake Louise, with mountain ranges and glaciers on either side of its entire length.

Another major corridor through central Alberta is Highway 11 (also known as the David Thompson Highway), which runs west from the Saskatchewan River Crossing in Banff National Park through Rocky Mountain House and Red Deer, connecting with Highway 12 20 km west of Stettler. The highway connects many of the smaller towns in central Alberta with Calgary and Edmonton, as it crosses Highway 2 just west of Red Deer.

Urban stretches of Alberta's major highways and freeways are often called trails. For example, Highway 2, the main north-south highway in the province, is called Deerfoot Trail as it passes through Calgary but becomes Calgary Trail as it enters Edmonton and then turns into Saint Albert Trail as it leaves Edmonton for the city of St. Albert. Calgary, in particular, has a tradition of calling its largest urban expressways trails and naming many of them after prominent first nations individuals and tribes, such as Crowchild Trail, Deerfoot Trail, and Stoney Trail.

Edmonton, Calgary, Red Deer, Medicine Hat, and Lethbridge have substantial public transit systems. In addition to buses, Edmonton and Calgary operate light rail transit (LRT) systems. Edmonton LRT, which is underground in the downtown core and on the surface outside of it, was the first of the modern generation of light rail systems to be built in North America, while the Calgary C-Train, although operating mostly on the surface, has almost 3 and a half times as much track as the Edmonton LRT and the highest ridership of any LRT system in North America.

Alberta is well-connected by air, with international airports at both Edmonton and Calgary. Calgary International Airport and Edmonton International Airport are the fourth and fifth busiest in Canada respectively. Calgary's airport is a hub for WestJet Airlines and a regional hub for Air Canada. Calgary's airport primarily serves the Canadian prairie provinces (Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba) for connecting flights to British Columbia, eastern Canada, 15 major US centres, nine European airports, and four destinations in Mexico and the Caribbean. Edmonton's airport acts as a hub for the Canadian north and has connections to all major Canadian airports as well as 10 major US airports, 3 European airports and 6 Mexican and Caribbean airports.

There are over 9,000 km of operating mainline railway, and many tourists see Alberta aboard Via Rail or Rocky Mountaineer. The Canadian Pacific Railway and Canadian National Railway companies operate railway freight across the province.

Government

The government of Alberta is organized as a parliamentary democracy with a unicameral legislature. Its unicameral legislature—the Legislative Assembly—consists of eighty-three members.

Locally municipal governments and school boards are elected and operate separately. Their boundaries do not necessarily coincide. Municipalities where the same body act as both local government and school board are formally referred to as "counties" in Alberta.

As Canada's head of state, Queen Elizabeth II, is the head of state for the Government of Alberta. Her duties in Alberta are carried out by Lieutenant Governor Norman Kwong. Although the lieutenant governor is technically the most powerful person in Alberta, he is in reality a figurehead whose actions are restricted by custom and constitutional convention. The government is therefore headed by the premier. The current premier is Ed Stelmach who was elected as leader of the governing Progressive Conservatives on December 2, 2006. Stelmach was sworn in as the 13th Premier of Alberta on December 15, 2006. The Premier is a Member of the Legislative Assembly, and he draws all the members of his Cabinet from among the members of the Legislative Assembly.

The City of Edmonton is the seat of the provincial government—the capital of Alberta.

Alberta's elections tend to yield results which are much more conservative than those of other Canadian provinces. Alberta has traditionally had three political parties, the Progressive Conservatives ("Conservatives" or "Tories"), the Liberals, and the social democratic New Democrats. A fourth party, the strongly conservative Social Credit Party, was a power in Alberta for many decades, but fell from the political map after the Progressive Conservatives came to power in 1971. Since that time, no other political party has governed Alberta. In fact, only four parties have governed Alberta: the Liberals, from 1905 to 1921; the United Farmers of Alberta, from 1921 to 1935; the Social Credit Party, from 1935 to 1971, and the currently governing Progressive Conservative Party, from 1971 to the present.

Alberta has had occasional surges in separatist sentiment. Even during the 1980s, when these feelings were at their strongest, there has never been enough interest in secession to initiate any major movements or referendums. There are several groups wishing to promote the independence of Alberta in some form currently active in the province.

In the 2008 provincial election, held on March 3, 2008, the Progressive Conservative Party was re-elected as a majority government with 72 of 83 seats, the Alberta Liberal Party was elected as the Official Opposition with nine members, and the Alberta New Democratic Party elected two members.

Municipalities

Largest municipalities and metro areas by population

Census Metropolitan Areas: 2006 2001 1996
Calgary CMA 1,079,310 951,395 821,628
Edmonton CMA 1,034,945 937,845 862,597
Cities (10 Largest):
Calgary 1,019,942 878,866 768,082
Edmonton 730,372 666,104 616,306
Red Deer 82,772 67,707 60,080
Lethbridge 74,637 67,374 63,053
St. Albert (included in Edmonton CMA) 57,719 53,081 46,888
Medicine Hat 56,997 51,249 46,783
Grande Prairie 47,076 36,983 31,353
Airdrie (included in Calgary CMA) 28,927 20,382 15,946
Spruce Grove (included in Edmonton CMA) 19,496 15,983 14,271
Leduc (included in Edmonton CMA) 16,967 15,032 14,346
Districts (3 Largest):
Strathcona County (included in Edmonton CMA) 82,511 71,986 64,176
Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo 51,496 42,581 35,213
Municipality of Rocky View (included in Calgary CMA) 34,171 29,925 23,326


Health Care

As with all Canadian provinces, Alberta provides for all citizens and residents through a publicly-funded health care system. Alberta became Canada's second province (after Saskatchewan) to adopt a Tommy Douglas-style program in 1950, a precursor to the modern medicare system.

Alberta's health care budget is currently $13.2 billion during the 2008-2009 fiscal year (aproximately 36% of all government spending), making it the most well funded health care system per-capita in Canada. Every hour more than $1.5 million is spent on health care in the province.

Currently, 6% of the province's health care is funded by a monthy insurance premium of $44 per person or $88 per family (with exceptions on senior citizens, minors, students, and low-income earners). These fees are to be eliminated as of January 1, 2009.

A highly-educated population and burgeoning economy have made Alberta a national leader in health education, research, and resources. Many notable facilities include the University of Alberta Hospital complex, the Royal Alexandra Hospital, the Mazankowski Alberta Heart Institute, the Lois Hole Hospital for Women, the Stollery Children's Hospital, the Alberta Diabetes Institute, the Cross Cancer Institute, and the Rexall Centre for Pharmacy and Health Research in Edmonton. Calgary is also host to the Foothills Medical Centre, the Peter Lougheed Centre, and the Alberta Children's Hospital.

Currently under construction in Edmonton is the new $909 million Edmonton Clinic, which will provide a similar research, education, and care environment as the Mayo Clinic in the United States.

Health Care in Alberta is administered by the unified Alberta Health Services Board. Prior to July 1, 2008 Alberta was divided into nine health regions: Aspen Regional Health Authority: Calgary Health Region, Capital Health (Edmonton), Chinook Health, David Thompson Regional Health Authority, East Central Health, Northern Lights Health Region, Palliser Health Region and Peace Country Health Region.

Education

As with any Canadian province, the Alberta Legislature has (almost) exclusive authority to make laws respecting education. Since 1905 the Legislature has used this capacity to continue the model of locally elected public and separate school boards which originated prior to 1905, as well as to create and/or regulate universities, colleges, technical institutions and other educational forms and institutions (public charter schools, private schools, home schooling).

Elementary schools

There are forty-two public school jurisdictions in Alberta, and seventeen operating separate school jurisdictions. Sixteen of the operating separate school jurisdictions have a Roman Catholic electorate, and one (St. Albert) has a Protestant electorate. In addition, one Protestant separate school district, Glen Avon, survives as a ward of the St. Paul Education Region. The City of Lloydminster straddles the Alberta/Saskatchewan border, and both the public and separate school systems in that city are counted in the above numbers: both of them operate according to Saskatchewan law.

For many years the provincial government has funded the greater part of the cost of providing K–12 education. Prior to 1994 public and separate school boards in Alberta had the legislative authority to levy a local tax on property, as supplementary support for local education. In 1994 the government of the province eliminated this right for public school boards, but not for separate school boards. Since 1994 there has continued to be a tax on property in support of K–12 education; the difference is that the mill rate is now set by the provincial government, the money is collected by the local municipal authority and remitted to the provincial government. The relevant legislation requires that all the money raised by this property tax must go to the support of K–12 education provided by school boards. The provincial government pools the property tax funds from across the province and distributes them, according to a formula, to public and separate school jurisdictions and Francophone authorities.

Public and separate school boards, charter schools, and private schools all follow the Program of Studies and the curriculum approved by the provincial department of education (Alberta Education). Home schoolers may choose to follow the Program of Studies or develop their own Program of Studies. Public and separate schools, charter schools, and approved private schools all employ teachers who are certificated by Alberta Education, they administer Provincial Achievement Tests and Diploma Examinations set by Alberta Education, and they may grant high school graduation certificates endorsed by Alberta Education.

Universities

Alberta's oldest and largest university is Edmonton's University of Alberta established in 1908. The University of Calgary, once affiliated with the University of Alberta, gained its autonomy in 1966 and is now the second largest university in Alberta. There is also Athabasca University, which focuses on distance learning, and the University of Lethbridge. There are 15 colleges that receive direct public funding, along with two technical institutes, Northern Alberta Institute of Technology and Southern Alberta Institute of Technology. There is also a large and active private sector of post-secondary institutions, including DeVry University. Students may also receive government loans and grants while attending selected private institutions. There has been some controversy in recent years over the rising cost of post-secondary education for students (as opposed to taxpayers). In 2005, Premier Ralph Klein made a promise that he would freeze tuition and look into ways of reducing schooling costs. So far, no plan has been released by the government of Alberta.

Culture

Summer brings many festivals to the province of Alberta. The Edmonton Fringe Festival is the world's second largest after Edinburgh's. The Folk music festivals in both Calgary and Edmonton are two of Canada's largest and both cities host a number of annual multicultural events. With a large number of summer and winter events, Edmonton prides itself as being the "Festival City". The city's "heritage days" festival sees the participation of over 70 national groups. Calgary is also home to Carifest, the second largest Caribbean festival in the nation (after Caribana in Toronto). The city is also famous for its Calgary Stampede, dubbed "The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth." The Stampede is Canada's biggest rodeo festival and features various races and competitions, such as calf roping and bull riding. In line with the western tradition of rodeo are the cultural artisans that reside and create unique Alberta western heritage crafts. The Banff Centre also hosts a range of festivals and other events including the internationally known Mountain Film Festival. These cultural events in Alberta highlight the province's cultural diversity and love of entertainment. Most of the major cities have several performing theatre companies who entertain in venues as diverse as Edmonton's Arts Barns and the Francis Winspear Centre for Music.

Both Calgary and Edmonton are home to Canadian Football League and National Hockey League teams. Soccer, rugby union and lacrosse are also played professionally in Alberta.

Ecology

Flora

In central and northern Alberta the arrival of spring brings the prairie crocus anemone, the three flowered avens, golden bean, and other early flowers. The advancing summer introduces many flowers of the sunflower family, until in August the plains are one blaze of yellow and purple. The southern and east central parts of Alberta are covered by a short, nutritious grass, which dries up as summer lengthens, to be replaced by hardy perennials such as the prairie coneflower, fleabane, and sage. Both yellow and white sweet clover fill the ditches with their beauty and aromatic scents. The trees in the parkland region of the province grow in clumps and belts on the hillsides. These are largely deciduous, typically aspen, poplar, and willow. Many species of willow and other shrubs grow in virtually any terrain. On the north side of the North Saskatchewan River evergreen forests prevail for hundreds of thousands of square kilometres. Aspen poplar, balsam poplar (or cottonwood), and paper birch are the primary large deciduous species. Conifers include Jack pine, Rocky Mountain pine, Lodgepole pine, both white and black spruce, and the deciduous conifer tamarack.

Fauna

The three climatic regions (alpine, forest, and prairie) of Alberta are home to many different species of animals. The south and central prairie was the land of the bison, its grasses providing a great pasture and breeding ground for millions of buffalo. The buffalo population was decimated during early settlement, but since then buffalo have made a strong comeback and thrive on farms and in parks all over Alberta.

Alberta is home to many large carnivores. Among them are the grizzly and black bears, which are found in the mountains and wooded regions. Smaller carnivores of the canine and feline families include coyotes, wolves, fox, lynx, bobcat and mountain lion (cougar).

Herbivorous animals are found throughout the province. Moose, mule deer, and white-tail deer are found in the wooded regions, and pronghorn can be found in the prairies of southern Alberta. Bighorn sheep and mountain goats live in the Rocky Mountains. Rabbits, porcupines, skunks, squirrels and many species of rodents and reptiles live in every corner of the province. Alberta is home to only one variety of venomous snake, the prairie rattlesnake.

Central and northern Alberta and the region farther north is the nesting ground of many migratory birds. Vast numbers of ducks, geese, swans and pelicans arrive in Alberta every spring and nest on or near one of the hundreds of small lakes that dot northern Alberta. Eagles, hawks, owls and crows are plentiful, and a huge variety of smaller seed and insect-eating birds can be found. Alberta, like other temperate regions, is home to mosquitoes, flies, wasps, and bees. Rivers and lakes are well stocked with pike, walleye, whitefish, rainbow, speckled, and brown trout, and even sturgeon. Turtles are found in some water bodies in the southern part of the province. Frogs and salamanders are a few of the amphibians that make their homes in Alberta.

Alberta is the only province in Canada—as well as one of the few places in the world—which is free of Norwegian rats. Since the early 1950s, the government of Alberta has operated a rat-control program which has been so successful that only isolated instances of wild rat sightings are reported, usually of rats arriving in the province aboard trucks or by rail. In 2006, Alberta Agriculture reports zero findings of wild rats; the only rat interceptions have been domesticated rats which have been seized from their owners. It is illegal for individual Albertans to own or keep Norwegian rats of any description; the animals can only be kept in the province by zoos, universities and colleges, and recognized research institutions.

See also

Notes

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