Regina– Statistics Canada’s release on March 12 of its February Labour Force Survey showed a drop of 23,000 jobs in Saskatchewan, a figure that had New Democratic Party Leader Ryan Meili and Small Business Critic Aleana Young crying foul.
The data compares February, 2020, which was the month before the COVID-19 pandemic was declared on March 11, 2020, to February, 2021, 11 months into the most significant pandemic since the Spanish Flu.
It showed Saskatchewan’s unemployment rate was 7.3 per cent in February, 2021, up 0.1 per cent from the previous month. Employment in Saskatchewan was 550,000 jobs, a 0.4 per cent improvement from the previous month. But compared to the same month last year, population grew 1,000, the labour force declined 18,300, and employment declining 23,000.
Young, who is a small business owner herself, said, “We all know there are so many people struggling to get by right now and while vaccines are certainly a light at the end of the tunnel, people don't know if their job will be there to come back to. And what we're calling for today is we need a plan that helps small businesses rehire those that they've had to lay off. And we need to support women getting back into the workplace. We know this pandemic has disproportionately impacted women.
“The Sask. Party waited a full year into the pandemic to spend the money that they received from the federal government on childcare. And this shows that their priorities aren't in the right place. And frankly, we want to be back to work. Twenty-three thousand people in Saskatchewan want to be back to work, and yet the Sask. Party seems to be happily taking an extended vacation, Saskatchewan families and businesses are asking when will Scott Moe do his job, so that they can do theirs?
Meili said, “Here we are, a year after the beginning of the pandemic in Saskatchewan, and we're 23,000 jobs down from a year ago. That's a massive hit to working families across this province and it needs to be a wake up call to Scott Moe and the Sask. Party. The numbers, at least by Stats Canada today, are very concerning, when we see how many families, how many people are facing additional hardship and the stress of being out of work, and those numbers aren't getting better. We see our unemployment numbers on the rise; deeply concerning, and it's a time when we need to make sure that every engine of the government is directed towards making sure that we're creating, or re-creating, every possible job.”
He expressed concern over what he called the government’s lack of engagement with a new biofuels project proposed for Regina.
“It's the same approach they've taken when it comes to industries, like creative industries like film where they've been either abscent or shutting things down. (They) shut down the solar industry. We look at EVRAZ, and the jobs lost there. The government's completely absent on standing up for steel workers, they're just not doing their jobs, and we need them to so that other people have jobs to go to.”
He accused the Saskatchewan Party government of “trying to spin a rosy picture.”
Meili was asked about how, since we are going through one of the biggest economic shocks since the Second World War, that the number of jobs lost is only 23,000 now, despite businesses like restaurants are still operating at reduced capacity due to public health measures meant to limit the spread of COVID-19.
He replied, “There's no question that the pandemic is the cause of the vast majority of these job losses. That doesn't let the Sask. Party off the hook for trying to do the work to get people back to work. And that's why we're missing opportunities, like having a jobs plan, like supporting small businesses, the way that they should, supporting families to be able to get back to work, and missing out on opportunities like the True North biofuels plant. This is the sign of a government that is trying to coast on this, trying to blame the pandemic, only, and not trying to do everything they can. We know that there are always circumstances out of our control. There are always elements that we can't change. The job of the provincial government is to do everything that is in their power to help Saskatchewan people. The Sask. Party is not doing that.
True North Renewable Fuels Ltd.’s is looking at building a “renewable diesel” plant to convert canola, and possibly other products, into “renewable diesel.” According to the Western Producer on March 12 regarding this proposal, “The True North business plan hinges on Canada’s proposed Clean Fuel Standard creating a huge market for renewable diesel, just like California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard has done south of the border.”
The Saskatchewan Party Government has in the past openly opposed the federal Clean Fuel Standard, with Minister of Energy and Resources Bronwyn Eyre referring to it as a “second carbon tax.”
When asked about the Government’s continued advocacy for mainline pipeline construction, including Keystone XL, Northern Gateway, Energ East and TMX, Meili said that the Saskatchewan Party Government had been “surprisingly quiet” about a pipeline project in northern Alberta which used foreign-produced pipe, instead of pipe produced at the Regina EVRAZ steel mill.
Asked for a response, an emailed statement attributed to the Government of Saskatchewan said, “The global COVID-19 pandemic has brutally impacted economies around the world, including here at home.
“Despite these significant challenges, Saskatchewan has demonstrated incredible resilience throughout this pandemic, and especially so as compared to other jurisdictions.
“According to Statistics Canada’s Labour Force Survey released today, Saskatchewan’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate in February was 7.3 per cent, well below the national rate of 8.2 per cent. And on a month-to-month basis, there were 2,300 more jobs gained in February 2021 compared to January 2021 (seasonally adjusted). All of the monthly employment gains were in full-time jobs.
The statement continued, “And while we’re not out of the woods just yet, there are a lot of very positive signs that Saskatchewan will weather this storm better than most and our province is in a stronger position for economic recovery than most.
“For example, January wholesale trade statistics released today shows Saskatchewan was up by 11.2 per cent year-over-year (seasonally adjusted), above the national increase of 8.1 per cent.
“In January 2021, Saskatchewan’s investment in building construction had the highest month-to-month growth among provinces at 14.7 per cent, and solid year-over-year growth at 12.5 per cent.
“In January 2021, Saskatchewan’s merchandise exports had the second highest year-over-year growth among provinces at 14.6 per cent, compared to the national decline of 1.0 per cent.
“In December 2020, all provinces suffered month-to-month decline in retail trade, but Saskatchewan had the second lowest decline among provinces at 0.4 per cent, compared to the national decline of 3.4 per cent.
As for small businesses, the Government said, “As of early March, the Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses (CFIB) Small Business Recovery Dashboard cites Saskatchewan as having 74 per cent of private sector businesses fully open, compared to only 51 per cent nationally.
“According to an average of the major private forecasters, Saskatchewan’s real GDP is forecast to have declined by 5.2 per cent in 2020 during the global COVID-19 pandemic, and is expected to rebound by 4.6 per cent in 2021 and sustain the growth in 2022 by 3.9 per cent.
“This shows the resilience of the Saskatchewan economy, and these are all strong signs pointing to our economy continuing to recover in the months ahead, which is good news for jobs,” the statement concluded.
Brian Zinchuk, Local Journalism Initiative reporter, Estevan Mercury