Tuesday, April 21, 2009

'A lot of hurt out there'

B.C. job losses largest in the country
By Elaine O'Connor, The Province; with files from Canwest News Service

Another 23,000 people in B.C. joined the ranks of job-seekers in March as unemployment continues to climb in the province.

British Columbia saw some of the steepest job losses in the country last month, shedding nearly 23,000 jobs, according to Statistics Canada's new labour-force survey.
Across Canada, another 61,300 jobs were cut in March and the unemployment rate rose to eight per cent, pointing to a deepening recession. A total of 357,000 jobs have been lost nationally since October 2008's peak, the largest decline since the 1982 recession.

B.C. residents suffered the largest loss of all the provinces last month, ahead of Ontario and Alberta.

Among the hardest-hit sectors are B.C.'s biggest industries: construction, real estate and manufacturing (including wood products).

That's not news to Prince George's Chris Bennett, a 21-year-old second-year construction apprentice. "I'm looking for work right now and I find it's getting pretty tight. I'd say, yeah, the economy isn't helping too much," he said.

B.C.'s Construction, Maintenance and Allied Workers president Jan Noster, whose union represents 7,000 workers in B.C. and Alberta, said 20 per cent of his members are without work. "In outlying rural areas it's grim. There's a lot of hurt out there. I don't want to be all doom and gloom, but the housing industry is in the tubes and I don't think it's coming back any time soon," he said.

Worst hit are construction workers in Northern B.C., where the economic picture was already dire, and it's the young apprentices who are bearing the brunt of layoffs.

"A lot of young people came into the trades because we were telling them it was a good place to be. In a downturn like this the apprentices are the first ones cut," Noster said.

Statistics Canada reports 16,000 B.C. jobs were lost in construction last month, 8,500 in real estate and finance and 6,600 in manufacturing. (Sectors like transportation and food services saw increases, bringing total losses to under 23,000.)

The province has lost a total of 69,000 jobs since October and 73,000 jobs over the past 12 months.

B.C.'s jobless rate rose 2.2 percentage points in March to 7.4 per cent. Regionally in B.C., the highest unemployment rates were seen in Northern B.C., at 11.7 per cent, and the Southern Interior at 9.3 per cent. The unemployment rate in Vancouver was 6.3, in Abbotsford, 6.8, and in Victoria, 6.1 per cent.

B.C. NDP finance critic Bruce Ralston said deep B.C. losses reflected the Liberals' slow reaction.

"For months into the economic downturn, Gordon Campbell told British Columbians not to worry. He had no idea what was going on for working families in the province. He responded slowly, and even today he stands alone among western leaders in calling for tax increases and program cuts," Ralston said.

B.C. Economic Development Minister Ida Chong said the government had been working since the economy faltered on infrastructure plans that would soon supply jobs, albeit not in time to be reflected in the March job numbers

The latest statistics, Chong said, "made it very clear that Canada is still in a recession and B.C. is not immune. But by the end of the week we will have announced 400 projects worth $2.8 billion that will create 18,000 jobs."

Looking at the Canadian picture, deputy chief economist at BMO Capital Markets Douglas Porter said the report "leaves little doubt that we remain deep in the heart of the recession, despite some mildly encouraging results on other fronts in recent weeks. The good news, such as it is, is that the job losses are not accelerating."

Prime Minister Stephen Harper said the latest jobs news was serious, but not unexpected. "Obviously this is not good news. At the same time this is the kind of level of unemployment we were expecting," he said in Edmonton. "We are, while not surprised, obviously concerned about the rising jobless numbers."

The economy contracted 3.4 per cent in the fourth quarter of 2008, and is expected to shrink further in the first quarter of 2009.

"The job losses over the past few months have made it unambiguously clear that the Canadian labour market is weakening at a very dramatic pace," said Millan Mulraine, a TD Securities economics strategist. "And with the Canadian economy continuing to weaken, the outlook for labour market conditions remains very grim."