Labour force shrinks, unemployment up in Wood Buffalo-Cold Lake census area

Gains in many sectors, including the oilsands, were offset by losses in sectors like retail.

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The census region covering Fort McMurray Wood Buffalo saw unemployment go up and the labour force shrink last month, according to data from Statistics Canada. Employment gains in many sectors, including the oilsands were offset by steep job losses in other sectors. The biggest losses were reported in retail and support services for businesses and buildings.

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February unemployment for the Wood Buffalo-Cold Lake census region rose to five per cent from 4.8 per cent in January. Employment dropped to 69.8 per cent from 70.9 per cent. Employment in February 2023 was 71 per cent and unemployment was 4.5 per cent. Unemployment in the last 12 months peaked in August at six per cent.

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The participation rate—which measures how much of the population is working or actively looking for work—dropped to 73.4 per cent last month. The rate was 74.5 per cent in January and 74.3 per cent in February 2023.

The labour force shrank by 1,100 positions in February from January, but grew by 1,400 positions from February 2023. The region lost 1,500 full-time jobs and gained 400 part-time jobs from January, but respectively gained 800 jobs and 100 jobs from February 2023. From January, job gains and losses in February were:

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  • The sector covering the oilsands gained 600 positions.
  • Educational services gained 200 jobs.
  • Accommodations and food gained 100 jobs.
  • Construction gained 100 jobs
  • Professional, scientific and technical services gained 100 jobs.
  • Retail lost 600 jobs.
  • Business, building and other support services lost 400 jobs.
  • The sector marked “other” lost 300 jobs.
  • Health care and social services lost 200 jobs
  • Transportation and warehousing lost 100 jobs.
  • Finance, insurance, real estate, rental and leasing services lost 100 jobs.
  • There were no reported changes in public administration.

Alberta’s unemployment rate stagnated at 6.2 per cent. Nathan Ip, Alberta NDP critic for jobs, economy and trade, said in a statement that Alberta’s unemployment was 5.9 per cent in February 2023. Ip also said Alberta’s unemployment is still higher than Canada’s average of 5.8 per cent in February, and higher than the other western provinces.

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“People coming to Alberta are not able to find meaningful work once they get here. Our employment rate isn’t keeping up with our influx of people looking for opportunities,” he said.

“Danielle Smith’s ‘Alberta is calling’ campaign needs to come with an asterisk that says: *but there may be no job, health care or education when you get here.”

 Alberta’s Minister of Jobs, Economy and Trade Matt Jones countered that Alberta’s employed more people in February than during the same period last year. He said employment was up 17,400 from January and had risen 4.1 per cent from February 2023. The labour force was 2.5 million and full-time jobs jumped to more than 2 million.

“While Alberta only accounts for 11.7 per cent of Canada’s population, our province leads the nation in net employment growth, with 42.8 per cent of the country’s employment gains,’ he said in a statement.

“With a highly skilled workforce, business-friendly policies, diversified economy and affordable, exceptional lifestyle, Alberta continues to be the economic engine of Canada.”

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