July 11, 2014 11:44 am

Jobless Ontario factory workers don’t hold your breath – move west

Alberta's construction sector is red hot while Ontario's manufacturing woes continue.

AP Photo/Matt York

On June 27, H.J. Heinz Co. turned out the lights on its 105-year-old Leamington, Ont. food processing plant, adding at least 500 more names to the ranks of jobless Ontarians who formerly earned a living through factory work.

Those newly unemployed workers helped push down the total number of manufacturing numbers in the country’s biggest province to their lowest level on record last month, Statistics Canada said Friday.

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There are now fewer factory jobs in Ontario than at any point in the past 38 years, or since 1976 when Statistics Canada first began counting jobs in the sector.

“We’re actually lower than where we were at the tail end of the recession, which is really saying something,” Doug Porter, chief economist at Bank of Montreal said. “Manufacturing jobs continue to wither.”

READ MORE: For Canada’s tomato capital, there’s life after ketchup

The share of factory jobs in Ontario, a province of 13.6 million people, has slipped to below 11 per cent this year.

At the start of the last decade, nearly one in five jobs in Ontario was directly tied into the manufacturing sector, according to the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

The culprits for Ontario’s regional decline in manufacturing are well known: A still-high Canadian dollar making Canadian wares more expensive to purchase in other currencies (such as U.S. dollars) is one big factor.

Productivity and technological gains erasing the need for human labour is another, Porter said. And of course, globalization has moved plenty of jobs to lower-cost countries.

A pause?

Still, experts like the BMO economist say a lowering of the loonie over the next couple of years should help preserve what remains of Ontario factory jobs, combined with a stronger U.S. economy—where Canada ships three quarters of exports.

But it will be a pause, not a stop, in the downward trend. “We could see a bit of a bounce back in the next couple of years – a small bounce back,” Porter said.

“If the U.S. economy comes back strongly and the Canadian dollar weakens a little bit, we could see a bit of a temporary reprieve.”

The loss of nearly 34,000 jobs in Ontario (13,600 in manufacturing alone) contributed to an uptick in the national unemployment rate to 7.1 per cent last month, Statistics Canada said.

After falling steadily since the end of the recession, the jobless rate has hovered around 7 per cent for the past year.

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The island of Alberta

What to do if you’re a former Ontario factory worker looking for work? Many are perhaps finding work in Alberta, if not in the oil and gas sector directly than in related booming industries.

Construction employment in the Western Canadian energy powerhouse surged by 23,200 last month, Statistics Canada said, while the number of people working in Alberta was up 3.7 per cent in June compared to the same month in 2013.

That growth rate compares the national rate of job growth (which accounts for outright job losses in some other provinces), of 0.4 per cent nationally and 0.1 per cent in Ontario.

Click here to view data »

READ MORE: Home construction is booming – in Alberta

TD Economics deputy chief economist Derek Burleton summed June’s jobs picture by saying: “The Great Canadian regional divide in job conditions remains evident.”

© Shaw Media, 2014

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