It’s a point we’ve heard often from the United Conservatives: Alberta has high unemployment and the NDP’s efforts to address the problem have failed.
“With more Albertans unemployed and the unemployment rate climbing higher yet again, it’s clear that the NDP plan simply isn’t working,” UCP MLA Ric McIver said in a March 8 news release. “High-tax, high-debt, anti-growth NDP policies are failing Albertans by hurting job creation.”
UCP Leader Jason Kenney shared a message on Twitter on March 9, saying: “The premier keeps telling Albertans that things are getting better but nearly 50,000 full-time jobs have been lost in the last four months alone.”
Is this true? Have that many jobs been lost in Alberta in the last four months? And are NDP policies at fault?
What is the allegation?
A UCP spokesperson adds: “There are now 182,500 unemployed Albertans — 43,000 more than when the NDP took office… Alberta’s unemployment rate climbed to 7.3 per cent, the highest of any province outside of Atlantic Canada, and now even higher than Nova Scotia.”
What are the facts?
The UCP’s numbers are correct, but there are some important things to note:
- While the province’s unemployment rate is high, Alberta also has the highest employment rate in Canada, sitting at 66.5 per cent in February 2019. To compare, Nova Scotia’s employment rate for the same month was 58.1 per cent.
“The unemployment rate measures how many people are looking for work as a share of a province or a city’s labour force,” said Trevor Tombe, an associate professor of economics and research fellow at the school of public policy at the University of Calgary. “So if people withdraw from the labour force — give up searching, for example — then they aren’t counted as unemployed.”
“Alberta has a high unemployment rate — certainly higher than it was prior to the recession and higher than many other provinces — but as a share of the population, more Albertans are employed than any other province by a pretty wide margin.
“Our employment rate is higher than anywhere else,” Tombe said. “But our unemployment rate is elevated despite that because so many more Albertans participate in the labour market than elsewhere.”
2. The four-month period the UCP is using (November 2018 to February 2019) also saw part-time employment increase by 21,000 jobs.
3. The margin of error for Statistics Canada’s Labour Force Survey is huge.
“Just to give you a sense of scale, in any given month, you should think of the estimate for full-time employment as +/- 28,000,” Tombe said. “Just like we look at a poll and we see that a certain party has a given amount of support +/- 3 or 4 points 19 times out of 20, that margin of error for full-time employment is +/- 28,000.”
WATCH BELOW (Jan. 8, 2019): When it comes to jobs in Alberta, what is really going on? Several headlines over the past few weeks have sent mixed messages. But they’re all true, using Statistics Canada numbers. Global News at Noon speaks to economist Trevor Tombe for some important context on the situation.
What do the experts say?
So, while the 48,000 number is accurate, Tombe says it doesn’t tell the whole story.
“It does show that full-time employment between November and February fell by 48,000, roughly,” he said. “Where that kind of misses the mark is that it’s kind of cherry-picking some of the dates.
“If you had instead looked at October to February, or December to February, you’d have got a number more around 15,000.”
It’s more meaningful to look at longer-term trends in this kind of data, Tombe said.
“Recovery was fairly strong in 2017, with improvements across the board and large drops in the unemployment rate… But it’s fair to say the recovery has stalled at the end of 2018 as we go into 2019.”
And can changes in employment or unemployment rates be credited to or blamed on specific government? While parties of all stripes tend to make the correlation, Tombe says it’s a difficult jump.
“It’s not uncommon for opposition parties everywhere to blame governments every time bad economic news comes up and it is equally common for governments to claim credit for good news,” he said.
“I think both arguments are exaggerating the effect of policy on short-run movements in the economy.”
“For Alberta, the recession was not due to government policy; it was due to the big drop in the price of oil. And the recovery during 2017 was also not due to government policy. And the slowdown in the pace of recovery, I’d say has a lot more to do with market access concerns, and rising oil price differentials than any particular action taken by the Alberta government.”
Chris Holly, an expert in public sector energy research and policy, has another take.
Holly says, while it may be difficult to connect one government policy to things like unemployment and economy, it’s clear that a combination of factors — and multiple governments’ policies — have impacted market access. Tangible elements like the carbon tax, corporate tax increases — and less tangible elements like regulatory uncertainty — have together impacted Canada’s competitive position, he says.
“Today, there is no indication that there is a comprehensive provincial or federal energy policy, nor an overall shared Canadian energy policy approach,” Holly added.
WATCH BELOW (March 1): The United Conservative Party’s jobs creation plan would create a tax cut to encourage employers to hire, but its raising questions for some. Adam MacVicar reports.
What else should I know?
“When the price of oil collapsed from $100/bbl to $25/bbl, we made the decision to invest in the services that Albertans relied on and build the much-needed schools and hospitals to put Albertans back to work,” an NDP spokesperson told Global News.
“As a result, since the depths of the recessions, Alberta has created over 80,000 new full-time jobs, mostly in the private sector.
“Oil prices have been staying lower for longer and market access issues persists. That’s why our government is taking action by investing in upgrading our natural resources and diversifying our economy.”
Kenney has promised that, if elected, the UCP would lower the 12 per cent corporate income tax rate by one point a year until it reaches eight per cent in 2022. He said cutting the rate will help grow businesses and jobs, and that will in turn create more revenue from other taxes to make up for the cut.
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