Jobs – a big election issue in Alberta

Albertans have come to believe that for every bust, there is a boom right behind it. Unlike the Alberta recessions of the past, recovering from 2015 has not been driven by a resurgence of energy prices.    As we enter the run up to the next election, our political parties are beginning to practice their jobs agenda talking points.

The NDP’s perspective is that the recession (the worst since 1984) crushed the budget, so they were forced to take on debt.  They say that had they cut the budget, families depending on government services would have been hurt and vital services like health, would have been damaged.  Further, they say that infrastructure spending was a job creator during the down time. So, they say “don’t set your hair on fire – good times are just ahead”

The UCP opposition says, “What? Are you kidding?” They offer up two main arguments.  First, the debt was increased by unaffordable program expansions. Secondly, the recovery of the economy and jobs were stunted by the NDP’s business unfriendly policies.

The Alberta Party, late to the debate, says “Will you both quit shouting? – ideologically driven answers get us nowhere”.

Well, when it comes to job debates; there is plenty of ammo for everyone to spin on twitter.

Here are a few facts:

  • In the last year the private sector gained 21,000 jobs and the public sector lost 4,400.
  • There were fewer part-time jobs (-10,770) but offset by a surge in full time work (+8,900) Recently, the month of April saw a small decline in overall jobs.
  • Alberta’s unemployment rate is still high at 6.3% in March, that is just barely better than parts of Atlantic Canada.
  •  In Calgary, unemployment is down from 9.2% in 2016 to 8.0%. Only St John’s Newfoundland, has a higher rate among the cities. Edmonton’s rate is declining too, from 7.6% to 6.6% in the two-year timeframe.
  • This last year has seen a better job market in manufacturing (+13,100), oil and gas (+11,200) and professional, scientific and technical services (+8,100).
  • Drilling rig count peaked this year at 200 which is roughly half the good old days of 2010-14.
  • Retail spending inched up only 1% year over year, but at least a continuation of growth of the past 15 months.
  • Housing starts are down 5% compared to a year ago.
  •  In March, building permits values were up to $1.3 billion, up 9%, year over year.  But here the news is mixed.  Residential permits are up 7%, but non-residential permits dropped by almost 8% compared to last year.
  • People are still running into financial trouble.  Over 1,000 people filed for insolvency or bankruptcy in February.
  • In 2017, out migration to other provinces was about 15,000 people. In January, we posted a positive number of 1,000 people migrating in from other provinces.
  • And we are still a popular destination for immigration.  In 2017 15,000 immigrants arrived. In January this year, another 4,500 showed up.

So, what does all this mean? Well, it doesn’t look like the Alberta Rose is going to spring into full blossom.  It is going to take some patience, sunlight and water.  But we should have an abundance of fertilizer this year!