Canada Varcoe: In one bleak week, almost 1,000 lost jobs

15:50  23 november  2019
15:50  23 november  2019 Source:   calgaryherald.com

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The recent flood of job losses announced by manufacturing companies in Northern Ireland further demonstrates the utter failure of the local governing Assembly’s economic strategy. The decision by Michelin to shut its factory in Ballymena, directly resulting in 860 job losses, triggered a coordinated

a man wearing glasses and a suit and tie© Darren Makowichuk

The loss of more than 200 jobs at Federated Co-operatives’ food distribution warehouse in Calgary caps a gloomy week for local workers, one that’s seen almost 1,000 positions evaporate within a few days.

It’s a sobering reminder that the employment situation remains fragile in the city and across the province heading into the final month of 2019.

In the past week alone, several large-scale layoffs were announced, some tied to provincial budget cuts — such as at the University of Calgary and Calgary Board of Education — while other job losses unfolded in the private sector.

“What we have seen this week is a whole bunch of things coming together at once. Interestingly, none of this is in the energy sector but it is in other parts of the economy that are important,” Mayor Naheed Nenshi said Friday.

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“You know in a big economy like ours, these are not massive macroeconomic numbers, but I am worried that it’s a harbinger of a bigger trend.”

Given the state of the economy, that is a legitimate concern, although there is a danger of viewing one lousy week as a precursor to more grim news.

Regardless of the reason, it all hurts, coming as 67,000 Calgarians — and 170,000 people across the province — are already looking for work.

“It reflects challenging conditions in the private-sector part of the economy, as well as government restraint,” said TD Bank deputy chief economist Derek Burleton in an interview.

“The difficult thing is we don’t see much improvement in 2020.”

On Thursday, Federated Co-operatives Ltd. announced it will close its warehouse in northeast Calgary next April. The move came after it lost a key contract to provide groceries to Calgary Co-op, which has decided to go with a competitor.

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a car parked in front of a building:  Federated Co-op Ltd. announced it will lay off 200 Calgary workers in the wake of Calgary Co-op stores changing distributors.© Darren Makowichuk Federated Co-op Ltd. announced it will lay off 200 Calgary workers in the wake of Calgary Co-op stores changing distributors.

The news follows hardware giant Lowe’s Canada confirming Wednesday it will shutter six Rona and Lowe’s stores across the province that employ 305 workers as part of a broader national reorganization.

Two stores in Calgary and another in Airdrie that employ 185 are to close by mid-February.

A tough provincial budget last month is also triggering job losses in the public sector.

On Wednesday, the Calgary Board of Education said about 300 teachers were told their temporary work contracts will end on Jan. 2 as it moves to cover a large budget gap.

The CBE said provincial budget cuts have left the province with a $32-million shortfall, although Education Minister Adriana LaGrange countered there’s “no reason” the board should be eliminating front-line teaching positions.

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Last week , it urged the government and the European Union to fight sanctions imposed by Donald Trump’s Republican administration, which it said would harm steel exports. The GMB said London, Scotland and the north-west lost 27%, 22% and 21% of their manufacturing jobs respectively.

Almost 1 , 000 job roles have so far been lost after construction giant Carillion collapsed into liquidation last month. The Official Receiver, part of The The firm employed 20,000 people in the UK and held a variety of public sector contracts ranging from building new hospitals to providing school dinners.

Meanwhile, the University of Calgary said it would axe 250 positions, with 150 jobs cut in two phases, beginning this month. Another 100 positions will be abolished through attrition, retirements and resignations.

Finally, Alberta Innovates confirmed Tuesday it would chop up to 125 positions — it has offices in Calgary and Edmonton, as well as Devon and Vegreville — after its budget was trimmed by the province, although it couldn’t specify where the job losses would occur.

“The public sector (layoffs) are distinct and they really put to test the provincial government’s claims that short-term pain will lead to long-term gain in terms of job creation,” said Nenshi.

“Let’s remember that public sector jobs … these are people, families, who are very concerned about their future right now.”

Other layoffs have also hit the city in recent weeks, including cuts at Perpetual Energy and Husky Energy.

Most petroleum producers are now assembling their 2020 budgets and several have already reduced their capital programs, although it’s not universal. Oilsands producer MEG Energy said Thursday it will boost its capital expenditures by 25 per cent to $250 million next year.

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Recent job losses are consistent with disappointing economic reports that began rolling out last year and have continued during 2019, said University of Calgary economist Trevor Tombe.

For example, Statistics Canada reported Friday that retail sales in Alberta fell by 2.7 per cent in September from a year earlier, a sign that consumer confidence is lagging.

“The Alberta economy may very well be contracting in 2019 and the layoffs we see … are a symptom of those broader aggregate levels of weakness,” said Tombe.

“We are definitely not increasing employment fast enough to actually improve the overall labour market, because the population is growing.”

It’s not all negative, as federal data show overall provincial employment is up about 20,000 in the past 12 months.

Yet, the unemployment situation remains challenging, with Alberta’s jobless rate sitting at 6.7 per cent in October, up slightly from September.

Another measure of the employment problem — the number of group terminations reported to the provincial government — has also been increasing this fall, with 12 large-scale layoffs affecting 1,150 employees recorded since the start of October.

It’s the worst back-to-back months seen in the past two years.

However, the overall number of Albertans affected by group terminations throughout the year is tracking below annual levels seen since the downturn began in 2014. (Employers are required to notify the province of layoffs involving 50 or more employees at a single location.)

Alberta’s economy should improve in 2020 as oil curtailment winds down and pipeline capacity increases later in the year, Burleton said Tuesday in a speech to the Calgary Chamber of Commerce.

He expects growth will return to most key sectors of the provincial economy, including oil and gas, agriculture, manufacturing and construction.

Over the longer term, Alberta will post the top economic growth in the country in the coming decade, averaging about 2.2 per cent annually, according to TD.

“When you come back to a lot of the strengths of the region, I do think Alberta is going to be OK,” Burleton told the audience. “Longer term, that’s where my optimism lies.”

After a bruising week, any and all optimism is sorely needed.

Chris Varcoe is a Calgary Herald columnist.


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