The multi-million dollar question: Where did all those lost jobs go?

EDGEitorial

The first question that crossed the EDGEYK.com desk after the job loss report was posted last week was simple and direct: 700 jobs? The writer was incredulous, but the 700 missing jobs are just a corner of a larger, more puzzling picture.

According to NWT Bureau of Statistics, the territory shed 1,600 public sector jobs since October 2013. That was offset by 400 jobs added in the private sector, but the net loss of 1,200 jobs is serious in a small economy and 700 of those disappeared from Yellowknife.

Job losses subtract money from the economy. The average annual wage for the territory is slightly more than $70,000, which adds up to more than $8.4 million taken out of circulation  in the Northwest Territories – and almost $5 million missing from Yellowknife.

There is evidence of trouble across the NWT. Inuvik is on the ropes. House prices have dropped there by 15 per cent, and buyers are scarce. In Yellowknife, the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. reported an increase in apartment vacancy rates last spring.

It appears the territory has never recovered from the 2008 recession. Employment fell from 23,600 in 2007 to 20,900 in 2009. It rebounded to 23,100 by 2011, but that seems to have been a dead-cat bounce.

Since then, employment has been on a downward trend, and the territory has been losing population. This is not a place where the unemployed can afford to wait and hope for change.

But the latest report on job losses look like a massacre. NWT Statistics had no explanation, other than the report is derived from Statistics Canada data, and that the number represents real losses – not vacant positions eliminated with the stroke of a pen.

The territorial government has had little to say. Questioned earlier this year about the job declines, Dave Ramsay, Minister of Industry Tourism and Investment, pointed to the hiatus in the Canol Shale exploration. But that’s just a small part of the story.

Losses in the private sector are easier to explain. Mineral exploration withered in the wake of the 2008 recession, taking a chunk of the territory’s aviation sector with it. Discovery Air has moved its head office and aircraft out of Yellowknife. Canadian North and First Air have decamped to Edmonton and Calgary.

The public sector includes federal, territorial, municipal, and first nations administrations; healthcare workers, teachers, police, fire and armed forces. How could 1,600 positions disappear without notice, protest, or comment?

In the absence of informed analysis, speculation filled the void: people discouraged by rejection dropped out of the work force; students returned to lecture halls; people retired out of the workforce. None of that explains where those public sector jobs went.

The territorial government needs to offer an explanation – to the people who live and invest in the territory, and the 2,000 new residents it hopes to attract.

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