Stop the carnage, AFL says after job losses: Alberta job loss more than 29,000 so far this year; minister predicted 15,000

EDMONTON - An Alberta labour group is calling for the province to come up with a new stimulus plan for the economy after news Friday that 23,700 people were thrown out of work in February alone.

"The government needs to stop covering its eyes from the economic carnage building around them," said Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour. "We need immediate action to help protect jobs in Alberta."

The February job losses pushed the province's unemployment rate up a full percentage point to 5.4 per cent - the highest rate since June 2003.

Edmonton's rate climbed from 3.8 per cent in January to 4.4 per cent in February.

February's losses are on top of the 5,700 Alberta jobs Statistics Canada reported were lost in January - bringing the total so far in 2009 to 29,400.

Alberta Finance Minister Iris Evans had predicted that 15,000 Albertans would lose their jobs this year as the province entered "a very sharp period of recession."

"We've always said that we were not immune to the global recession," she said on Feb. 19. "Many Albertans in the province will face a difficult year. The best response at this time is to stay true to Alberta spirit."

McGowan called on the government to develop and implement a stimulus package that would focus on building key public infrastructure and keep Albertans working during the downturn.

"The government's dithering leaves us months behind other jurisdictions in responding to the crisis, but better late than never," said McGowan.

"The total job loss is now above 36,000 jobs in the last three months. How many more Albertans must lose their livelihood before this government acts?" asks McGowan.

He was concerned the job losses were no longer confined to construction and energy sectors. "Manufacturing shed 11,000 jobs last month. Retail lost 7,500 jobs. This says to me that the crisis is spreading to all sectors of Alberta's economy. And that is worrying," he said.

One Alberta-based bank economist called the job losses announced Friday surprisingly high.

"This February was the largest drop in employment Alberta has ever seen," said Todd Hirsch, senior economist for ATB Financial. "And it comes after a month in January when we also saw a very large drop in employment. It's a little surprising because often when you see a big drop, the following month it's a little bit of a bounce back."

The industries that lost most jobs were non-instructional educational services at 13,400; manufacturing 10,100; construction at 8,900 and wholesale and retail trade at 7,600.

Still, Alberta posted the third-lowest rate in the country behind Saskatchewan's 4.7 per cent and Manitoba's 4.8 per cent.

The national average was 7.7 per cent, a six-year high.

Edmonton Journal, Fri Mar 13 2009
Byline: Bill Mah

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