Alberta job losses being felt across Canada

Oil Sand lay offs leaving Alberta economy in shambles
Oil Sand lay offs leaving Alberta economy in shambles

Alberta job losses rippling across Canada

In the latest sign of the province’s growing economic troubles, Alberta has twice as many EI recipients as it did just a year ago, and the downturn there is being felt in other parts of the country.

Oil prices have dropped by about 50 per cent over the past several months to hover just over US$40 a barrel, and that has led to belt tightening at energy and resource companies and significant layoffs in Alberta and other oil-dependent provinces.

“Going forward, the outlook for the energy sector remains still very uncertain,” Marie-Christine Bernard, associate director of Provincial Forecast for the Conference Board of Canada, tells Yahoo Canada News. “Prices are remaining low.”

The 58,000 Albertans who made an EI claim in September represent the province’s highest number of employment insurance recipients since January 2010, according to Statistics Canada.

Information released by Statistic Canada on Thursday showed that EI claimants in Alberta are up in every sector of the economy. But the biggest increases compared to a year ago came in the energy sector. For example, the number of EI recipients in energy-related trade jobs like pipe fitting doubled compared to one year ago, and tripled for those in engineering and other applied science jobs.

Many people from other provinces travel or move to Alberta for work in its resource sector, Bernard says, which means that job losses in the western province are being felt across the country.

Employment levels are down in Saskatchewan and the Atlantic provinces, for example. Unemployment rose in September in Newfoundland and Labrador (2.2 per cent) and Nova Scotia (2.1 per cent) compared to August, according to StatsCan.

“They are traditional provinces that have workers that commute to Alberta for the energy sector,” Bernard says.

The StatsCan payroll report for August 2015, which includes all workers regardless of their province of origin, gave a more detailed picture of the wider impact of Alberta’s job losses, Bernard says.

“According to that survey if you take the last month of data, which is August, compared to August 2104 close to 60,000 jobs have been lost in Alberta,” Bernard says — and some of those losses affected workers whose province of residence is elsewhere.

Job losses across Canada

Nationally, the number of employment insurance recipients across the country was up by 1.1 per cent in September compared to August, and 8.3 per cent compared to one year ago to 543,800 people. Alberta represented most of the national increase from last month, with its numbers up 9.1 per cent from just last month.

In addition to being affected by job losses in Alberta’s resource sector, the Atlantic provinces are struggling because of reduced revenues from their own oil industries. Earlier this week, for example, the Conference Board of Canada released information indicating that Newfoundland and Labrador faces several years of budget deficits, due largely to lower oil prices.

Saskatchewan is also affected by Alberta’s problems, Bernard says, because its manufacturing industry is so tied to the oil industry.

“Certain industries who are very specialized towards the energy sector are going to be hurting,” she says.

And while the energy companies have yet to introduce their capital projects for 2016, the expectation that prices will remain low means more economic pain is likely.

“Conditions remain difficult to bring on new projects,” Bernard says of the energy and commodities industries across the country. “Financing conditions are not very good.”

But there is some good news. The American economy is rebounding, Bernard says, and that’s positive for Canada because the United States is the nation’s biggest trading partner. Improved conditions in the U.S. have already improved the outlook for Ontario’s manufacturing industry, for example, she says.

“We kind of have one negative, but another big positive at the same time,” Bernard says.

Alberta’s other troubles

The news from StatsCan is the latest troubling economic information to come out of Alberta, which has seen a drop in its status as an economic powerhouse because of the plunge in oil prices.

Earlier this week, national statistics from HungerCount revealed that Alberta saw a significant increase in the number of people visiting food banks, compared to a year ago. Food bank demand in the province went up by more than 23 per cent — far higher than the average national increase of 1.3 per cent — and 75 per cent of the food banks in Alberta reported increased demand for their services over the past year.

The province’s unemployment rate was 6.6 per cent in October, according to StatsCan, triple the rate of 2.2 per cent in October 2014. About Staffing, an Alberta employment agency, told the Globe and Mail that the number of job seekers it sees monthly has increased from about 2,000 a month before the downturn in the oil industry to about 3,000 a month now.

At the same time, the province is grappling with increases in crime in its capital city and a quick uptick in the number of deaths by fentanyl overdose. And the province’s real-estate market is also troubled. Data released by ATB Financial on Wednesday showed that the number of new homes in Edmonton that are not sold or rented went up by 30 per cent in the past year, for example.

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