Jobless rate rises in Kelowna

Kelowna Mayor Colin Basran told the Kelowna Chamber of Commerce Thursday it
Kelowna Mayor Colin Basran told the Kelowna Chamber of Commerce Thursday it's time for one integrated water system in the city.
— image credit: Alistair Waters/Capital News

Kelowna has weathered a number of boom and bust cycles over its history, so recently released figures showing both a rise in the jobless rate and a dip in the number of available jobs  aren’t coming as a surprise to city officials.

“It’s concerning, but it’s not new,” said Mayor Colin Basran, reacting to a BMO labour market report card highlighting the change of fortune.

“(Boom and busts) are something that residents in Kelowna have dealt with for decades.”

The BMO study showed that Kelowna’s unemployment rate jumped to 7.6 per cent this January, up from three per cent in the same period a year earlier.

BMO also noted the city’s population grew 1.7 per cent over the last year, while the number of jobs fell 2.2 per cent.

All in all, the numbers amounted to Kelowna losing the distinction of being on BMO’s list of best places to get a job in Canada, instead dropping 31 spots to appear second from the bottom of the list.

While Kelowna may not be impervious to economic swings,  Basran said it’s far from the worst place to find a job in Canada.

First, he argued, these figures merely offer a snapshot of the city’s economic health, and using one month’s data isn’t ideal.

“We need to see how it plays out two, three and six months down the road,” he said.

Efforts to diversify the economy, he said, could soften the blow going forward.

“We have seen continual growth in the knowledge based economy, with the tech sector and health care, and these are good things,” he said.

What Basran said should also be taken into account is how the economic strength of other regions is casting a shadow on Kelowna, particularly Alberta.

It’s no secret that Kelowna is home to a number of men and women who earned a living at Alberta’s oil sands.

At last count, said Basran, there were 5,000 in the Central Okanagan who made their livings across provincial boundaries, but counted Kelowna as their primary residence.

When jobs in that region dried up, they headed home to be counted among the jobless in this region.

While there’s no way to tell how many of that 5,000 are suffering job losses, anecdotal evidence paints a fairly grim picture.

Last month, WestJet announced it was ending its daily Kelowna-Fort McMurray non-stop flight.

WestJet launched the Kelowna-Fort Mac service in May 2014 when there was demand to get workers who live in Kelowna in and out to their oil-patch jobs.

The price of oil plummeted and so did the demand for flights.

The airline says it will consider reinstating the flight route when the demand increases.

The Central Okanagan foodbank also noticed a spike in need for their services over the holidays, and continuing into the new year. Growth in demand for Kelowna sat at 20 per cent, while West Kelowna saw a 30 per cent rise.

Foodbank representative Ami Catriona said much of this is coming from job losses in the tar sands, and cascading economic effects. Kelowna, of course, isn’t the only place suffering from the dwindling returns of the country’s tar sands, and that’s highlighted in the report.

In the report,  BMO senior economist Robert Kavcic said job losses are showing up far from the oil patch.  Alberta shed another 10,000 jobs in January, though the losses were not directly in the resource sector, but rather in manufacturing, construction and professional services.

Public sector employment, however, hit a new record high.

“If last year was all about energy-sector layoffs, this year will be about the impact spreading more broadly through the province’s labour market. Notably, Alberta’ s jobless rate is now above the national average for the first time since 1988,” Kavcic wrote in the report.

Canada’s economic news, however, isn’t all doom and gloom.

B.C.’s future seems pretty bright, despite Kelowna’s apparent trouble, and that may bode well for the months ahead.

Both B.C. and Ontario have seen their jobless rates rise in the past year despite firmer job growth.

This reflects accelerating labour force growth to a 2 1/2-year high in Ontario and one of the strongest rates of the past 20 years in B.C.

“In B.C., we’ve witnessed a stark turnaround in migration flows between B.C. and Alberta in response to better relative job prospects. In other words, don’t let the sticky jobless rates fool you—these are the two strongest markets in Canada, and it’s not really even close,” said Kavcic.


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