EDMONTON - A freeze on public-sector hiring may be a key reason Edmonton's unemployment rate is higher than the rest of the province, says Alberta Employment and Immigration Minister Thomas Lukaszuk.
"Many of Edmonton's residents are either directly or indirectly employed by government. All levels of government are still in a position where we have, effectively, hiring freezes," Lukaszuk said Friday.
"But let's be clear: We are not looking to, nor should we be looking to, government to be the body that creates employment by way of directly hiring individuals.
"Government's role is to create a climate that is conducive to (the) private sector creating jobs, and not government hiring individuals just to combat unemployment directly."
According to labour force statistics issued Friday, the Edmonton region's seasonally adjusted unemployment was 6.9 per cent in July 2010 compared to 7.2 per cent in July 2009.
The city's chief economist, however, said it is difficult to link the rate to the provincial, municipal or federal hiring freezes.
"I wouldn't be able to point the finger at government restraint or government freeze on hiring as being the single most important factor," said John Rose.
"That said, obviously the provincial government as well as the university and health-care sectors play a very large role in the Edmonton economy. And obviously if there's restraint in any one of those sectors it is going to hold back employment growth in the city."
Alberta unemployment was 6.3 per cent, its lowest since April 2009.
But Lukaszuk's conclusion had some raising their eyebrows, including the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees, which enters negotiations with the government next month on behalf of 20,000 public sector employees.
"It may not be the role of the government just to create a job for the sake of it, but it is the role of the government to create services and provide services," said Guy Smith, the union's executive director.
Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, argued the government does need to invest in hiring people.
"If the provincial government is serious about helping Albertans keep their heads above water during this recession, then they have to do more than hope for an increase in private -sector employment," McGowan said, adding the government's decision to cut positions earlier this year made a bad job landscape worse.
According to Statistics Canada, Alberta employment may have increased for the fourth consecutive month, but growth over the last year has been "among the slowest in the country at 1.2 per cent."
Nationally, the average rate remained flat, inching to 8.0 per cent, up 0.1 percentage points from the previous month. Compared to July 2009, the rate was down 0.6 percentage points.
Seasonally-adjusted unemployment rate for Edmonton
July 2010 - 6.9 per cent
June 2010 - 7.1 per cent
July 2009 - 7.2 per cent
Unadjusted unemployment rate (July 2010)
Edmonton Region 7.1 per cent
Calgary Region 6.8 per cent
Wood Buffalo-Cold Lake 4.9 per cent
Athabasca-Grande Prairie 6.5 per cent
Red Deer Region 5.6 per cent
Banff-Jasper-Rocky Mountain House 4.9 per cent
Camrose-Drumheller 3.8 per centLethbridge-Medicine Hat 6.9 per cent
Edmonton Journal, Sat Aug 7 2010
Byline: Trish Audette and Bill Mah