OTTAWA — Alberta’s employment landscape continues to shift on the impact of natural resources, and now natural disasters.
While the Canadian economy created more jobs overall than anticipated in May, there were fewer people looking for work, resulting in a drop in the unemployment rate. And in Alberta — already hurting from the global collapse in oil prices — jobs have become even harder both to find and to count as wildfires have complicated employment estimates in that province.
Statistics Canada said Friday it was unable to survey the devastated town of Fort McMurray, where 80,000 people were forced to leave their homes and daily production of more than a million barrels of oil was disrupted by the wildfires.
“You maybe have to take a little bit of the negativity out of it because of the fire impact, but the bigger picture is that employment is still down (in Alberta) roughly two per cent year-over-year,” Robert Kavcic, senior economist at BMO Capital Markets.
The national workforce grew by about 14,000 last month, with hiring limited mostly to Ontario and Quebec, while a majority of the declines were focused in Alberta and Nova Scotia, Statistics Canada said Friday.
The national unemployment rate declined by 0.2 points to 6.9 per cent in May, the lowest level since July 2015, the agency said.
There were nearly 61,000 full-time jobs created in May, while part-time jobs fell by 46,800. Public sector employment increased by about 30,200, but there was a drop of 5,400 private sector jobs and the number of Canadians who consider themselves to be self-employed fell by 11,100.
Economists had forecast an increase of anywhere between 4,000 and 10,000 positions in May, with the jobless rate steady at 7.1 per cent. Canada lost 2,100 positions overall in April after a gain of 40,600 in March.
Friday’s report showed a “considerably stronger than expected headline job gain but with so much volatility across the components that it makes it too difficult to read from a quality standpoint,” said Derek Holt, vice-president of Scotiabank Economics.
“Bright spots were construction and manufacturing, but a huge drop in trade and resource employment probably reflects survey quality issues in my opinion on the wildfires.”
Job increases totalled 22,000 in both Ontario and Quebec. But for Quebec, that marked the first increase in hiring since July 2015, Statistics Canada said, and cut the unemployment rate to 7.1 per cent, down 0.4 points from the April reading. Gains in Ontario also helped pull the unemployment rate down by 0.4 points, taking the rate to 6.6 per cent.
The biggest declines were in Alberta, where job losses amounted to about 24,000, which pushed the unemployment rate up 0.6 points to 7.8 per cent.
“These declines coincided with the wildfires in northern Alberta, which affected business operations in a number of industries, including oil and gas extraction,” the federal agency said.
However, the survey period for May coincided with the evacuation of residents in Fort McMurray due to wildfires. As a result, Statistics Canada estimated the employment for the town based on responses from “similar respondents from surrounding areas.”
Meanwhile, employment also fell in Nova Scotia, by 3,600, although the jobless rate remained at 7.8 per cent.
“A lot of the good news, like the full-time job gains and the jobless rate decline, are offset by the not-so-good news, like private-sector job declines and a dip in the part-time growth,” said BMO’s Kavcic.
“So, you add it all up and it really looks like a wash. And then, plus, you have some special factors like the wildfire impact and probably some census hiring in there too that might have boosted the overall total.”