Unemployment Rate Too Low?

A boom in Northern Alberta and rural B.C. means there are more jobs than people to fill them.

What if you threw a party and nobody came? That's what's going on in northern Alberta and rural B.C., where a boom in the resource and construction sectors–driven by the oil-and-gas fiesta, increased trade with China and the lead-up to the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver–has pushed unemployment rates way down. The hitch? Both areas need more people to keep things going, and they just aren't coming fast enough, if at all, according to Statistics Canada. “Alberta's just flat run out,” says Philip Cross, director of current analysis for Statistics Canada. “They're going to be kidnapping people off the street soon.” A 4% unemployment rate is considered full employment, but in northern Alberta's oil-sands-rich Athabasca-Grand Prairie-Peace River region, for example, the rate fell to 3.3, down from five a year earlier.

Doug McArthur, a public policy professor at Simon Fraser University, says the labour crunch plus underlying market conditions, such as mass baby boomer retirement, means this part of Canada is being hit with a whammy. “We haven't seen anything nearly as severe in the past,” says McArthur, who offers one bright spot: “[This situation] might actually help to create change in the economic conditions of aboriginal people.”