St. John’s Board of Trade representatives met with federal ministers in Ottawa this week to push for increased immigration rates.
Social Development Minister Jason Kenney speaks in the House of Commons on Thursday. Kenney recently met with members of the St. John’s Board of Trade at the Northern Lights Conference in Ottawa earlier this week. — Photo by The Canadian Press
Board of Trade chairwoman Sharon Horan and CEO Nancy Healey met with Immigration Minister Chris Alexander, Employment and Social Development Minister Jason Kenney and Minister of State and Minister for Newfoundland and Labrador Rob Moore while attending the Northern Lights conference and trade show in Ottawa this week.
“Our biggest issue at the Board of Trade this year is our members are finding it hard to get appropriate numbers of people in order to respond to the workloads that are available and the opportunities that are available,” Horan said Friday, “and we wanted to be sure that these particular ministers, we felt were strategic in making sure that they understood the issues in our regions as it relates to labour market.”
Horan said Newfoundland and Labrador’s aging and declining population is worrisome for the province’s employers.
“We know that there’s approximately 80,000 jobs coming in the next three to five years, 60,000 of which are actually permanent jobs. Twenty-thousand will be temporary construction work,” she said. Horan added that Newfoundland and Labrador’s unemployment rate — 10.8 per cent as of December 2013, according to Statistics Canada — is misleading.
“In Newfoundland and Labrador, we do feel that the unemployment rate can be interpreted inappropriately, because it would not be wise for us to disadvantage industries like fishing or industries like hospitality and tourism, and take these people and find themselves temporarily available for alternate work and put them into these other industries that require work, and then we wouldn’t have any manpower left to maintain those fishing and hospitality and tourism industries.”
Newfoundland and Labrador has the highest rate of unemployed workers in the province; with a three-month average of 25,500 people out of work as of September — the most recent provincial figures available from Statistics Canada — and 1,800 job vacancies, that means for every job vacancy, there are 14.5 people looking for work. Only Prince Edward Island’s unemployment-to-job-vacancy ratio is higher, at 15.5.
The national average is six people looking for work to every opening.
Horan maintains, though, that immigration, not retraining, is the answer.
“Our position is that we don’t actually have a lot of unemployed people in Newfoundland and Labrador,” she said.
“The engagement in the workforce, particularly in St. John’s and areas surrounding St. John’s, is actually the highest amount of engagement we’ve ever seen, and we’re probably comparable with cities like Calgary. The unemployment rate in our metropolitan region is actually around five per cent, and four per cent is virtually no unemployment rate at all.”
Higher unemployment rates in rural areas are due, in many instances, said Horan, to seasonal employment.
“These people have a job to return to; they’re just out of work on an interim basis, and are actually not really ideally available to build these 80,000 jobs that are coming.”