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Tumbler Ridge jobless rate at 60-70 per cent, says deputy mayor

Hundreds of people in the district of Tumbler Ridge lost their jobs in a rash of mine closures this year. But the town’s exact rate of unemployment – which district staff say would help a push for government assistance – remains a mystery.
tumbler

Hundreds of people in the district of Tumbler Ridge lost their jobs in a rash of mine closures this year.

But the town’s exact rate of unemployment – which district staff say would help a push for government assistance – remains a mystery.

Tumbler Ridge councillor Rob Mackay, who also serves as deputy mayor, said a local unemployment rate of between 60 and 70 per cent "would be in the right ball park" since Anglo American Coal and Walter Energy idled their mines in Northeast British Columbia.

The town of 2,700 has been largely dependent on mining since it was incorporated in 1981. Around 700 people directly lost their jobs over a period of around six months, and by the end of the year, there will be no working coal mines in Tumbler Ridge.

“[60 to 70 per cent unemployment] has got to be fairly close, though I don't know the exact number,” said Mackay. “Those mines were the major employers in Tumbler Ridge.”

Both companies cited falling metallurgical coal prices as the reason for the shutdowns.

Jordan Wall, Tumbler Ridge’s economic development officer, said being able to put a hard number on the town’s unemployment rate would underline how bad things are to senior levels of government.

“I would love to have that information, but its really all been rumours,” Wall said.

A delegation from Tumbler Ridge is in Victoria this week for a series of meetings with cabinet ministers about economic development and diversification in the district.

According to Mackay, they are meeting with the mining, jobs, international trade and advanced education ministries.

Among the ideas for stabilizing Tumbler Ridge are expanding rail lines to access more economically viable coal deposits, investing in wind power and establishing a mining-focused branch of Northern Lights College in the district, Mackay said. 

Tumbler Ridge was also recently certified as a UN Geopark, which the district hopes will bring tourists to see the area's fossil and geologic history.

But a full count of unemployed people in Tumbler Ridge would be a good place to start, said
Wall.

“Tumbler Ridge would like to know exactly how the community has been affected, and unfortunately that information is not available,” he said.

Ian Darling, a manager with B.C. Stats, said month-to-month labour market statistics for towns the size of Tumbler Ridge do not exist.

"Looking at the Northeast’s employment statistics by industry per month is tenuous at best," he said. "It’s simply not possible from the [labour market] survey to drill down that far."

In September, Northeast B.C. as a whole had a reported unemployment rate of 3.9 per cent. That number is a moving three-month average that is unadjusted for seasonal unemployment. Province-wide, the unemployment rate sits at 6.2 per cent.

Wall said that he was skeptical of the 60 to 70 per cent figure tossed around for Tumbler
Ridge.

He said he arrived at a lower number by estimating the size of the local labour force and dividing that by the total job losses – which he pegged at 1,000 to include jobs directly connected to mining. As well, an unknown number of people who lost jobs fly in and do not live in Tumbler Ridge. 

"I'm really pressed to see how you would get to [the 60 to 70 per cent] number," he said. "I don't want to say it's not true, but I don't see how it could be that high."

Regardless of how many people are out of work, the closures would continue to have a ripple effect across the district's economy, Mackay said. 

"Everybody's affected: the hardware store, the grocery store – everyone's hit by this," he said.   

reporter@dcdn.ca

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