The unemployment rate in Northeast B.C. was so low at the end of 2012 that Statistics Canada wasn’t able to apply a number to it.
Helping this phenomenon along was the addition of 300 jobs in the Northeast in December, according to the Labour Force Survey released by Statistics Canada.
“It’s a stable number, it’s very hard to build on the drop growth that we’re seeing and the number drops that we’ve had in the region already. It’s been such as strong part of the overall provincial economy,” said Minister of jobs, tourism and skills training and minister responsible for labour Pat Bell said.
Arthur Hadland, Director of Area C for the Peace River Regional District, isn’t surprised by the increase in jobs for December.
“There seems to be a lot of activity here. Three hundred jobs, the activity is going on [in] Tumbler Ridge. There’s construction activity, I think that’s to be expected when you have growth,” he said.
In British Columbia as a whole, in December of last year, the employment rate declined 0.3 per cent leaving the overall unemployment rate for British Columbia at 6.5 per cent.
For the Northeast, the rate of unemployment fluctuation was so small, that it wasn’t reported on by Statistics Canada.
“All the reports that I’ve seen have shown that once again, northeast B.C. is leading the province with record unemployment rates so low that stats B.C. is actually unable to give a number, said Dawson Creek Mayor Mike Bernier.
For the people of the region, they still seem to be in need of employment in many cases.
“The more I talk to businesses and companies in the area, they’re still telling me that across every sector right from the oil and gas to the hospitality industry, everybody is still looking for people and I guess that basically shows in the fact that as more people are looking for work, more people are coming to the community they’re filling those jobs that are vacant out there,” explained Bernier.
However, even with the creation of 300 more jobs in the region, the minister explained that there are some sectors that have been seeing a reduction in labour for December 2012.
“The gas sector in particular has been negatively impacted by low prices, that could be reflected in terms of overall jobs but the coal sector continues to do very, very well. Tumbler Ridge will continue to draw people into that area for employment. I think the Northeast is still very well positioned and should continue to perform well,” said Bell.
As for the oil and gas industry, Bernier explained that in the past, during certain parts of the year, the oil and gas industry does sometimes see a decrease in work.
“We used to have the time … where people were laid off while the ground was thawing but what we’re starting to see is those levels are starting to stabilize. We still do see when things are a little slower right now in the oil and gas industry, some of those people are laid off now.”
Bernier also explained that because the economy in the Northeast continues to grow it has begun to stabilize and therefore less jobs and lost during the winter months.
For the North, there has been a shortage of skilled laborers in the area and according to Bernier, there is still that need.
“When I look at the job search site, there are still lots of jobs in the area to be filled. Most of them in specialized trades but as people continue to advance their skills or get the training needed for those jobs, you’re going to see more jobs filled in our area.”
In order to make sure that there are laborers for those positions, Bell explained the government has made skills training a priority.
“We’re training over double the number of people today than we were just 10 years ago and that continues to accelerate the opportunities. So trades training will be absolutely key,” he said.
Bell also added that government will continue, “to make changes like we did last year, which provided for an incremental rural living allowance for people in northern British Columbia that will show up on this year’s tax return.”
Bernier agreed that finding a way to bring in more skilled labour is something needed.
“B.C. jobs plan – we really want to focus on that because one of the things everybody was talking about was northeastern B.C. as being one of the best places to move to and to work and so we want to make sure as a council that we’re on top of that and make sure that we create a proper community for people to come to as well.”
However, while an increase in jobs for December 2012 is a good thing, Hadland is concerned that the region and the province is not thinking ahead enough.
“Growth with stewardship is always positive, my concern of course is long term what are we doing to our water resource, I think number one and two is are we developing these resources in a sustainable manner, that’s my other concern,” said Hadland
He added, “We’ve got to look ahead not 10 years, not 30 years, but we’ve got to look ahead 150 [years] … the growth seems to be in the natural gas sector and I think that, that is a real opportunity not only for region but for province, but I am really concerned about a long-term strategy that incorporates secondary and tertiary utilization of our natural gas.”
Hadland explained that he doesn’t want to see the oil and gas industry become something that is exhausted in a short period of time.
“People should maybe reflect that we had a woods industry that really propelled this province ahead for about 50 or 60 years and now through I would suggest mismanagement, misread of the changes in the world economy that is not longer a major force in British Columbia and so our next opportunity is natural gas and everything I see right now is very short-term outlook,” he said.