Saskatchewan's opposition is calling for action after the release of new statistics showing job numbers are still below pre-pandemic levels in the province.
According to Statistics Canada, there were about 561,400 people employed in Saskatchewan in February 2020. One year later in February 2021, that number had fallen to about 538,700 people. Both numbers are more than the a five-year low in April 2020, when about 492,300 people were employed.
The unemployment rate in the province is currently at 7.3 per cent, down from a five-year peak of 12.4 per cent in May 2020. Saskatchewan's unemployment rate averaged 8.4 per cent in 2020, according to Statistics Canada data, compared to the 2019 rate of just 5.6 per cent.
Statistics Canada said the labour force grew by 3,000 people from January 2021 to February 2021, but February 2021 saw 23,000 fewer people employed than the same month the previous year.
The Saskatchewan NDP said the latest figures should be a "wake-up call" for the Saskatchewan government.
"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," Saskatchewan NDP jobs and economy critic Aleana Young said during a Zoom news conference on March 12.
Young said there needs to be a plan to help small businesses rehire those that they had to lay off and to support women getting back into the workplace.
The provincial government said in a written response that despite the economic impact of the pandemic, Saskatchewan has demonstrated resilience. It said this is shown by the unemployment rate being lower than the national average of 8.2 per cent, with 2,300 jobs being added in February 2021 compared with January 2021.
"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," it said.
The province said the provincial GDP declined by 5.2 per cent during the pandemic and is expected to rebound 4.6 per cent in 2021 and grow in 2022 by 3.9 per cent. The province also said it has introduced several programs to support businesses, including the Saskatchewan Small Business Emergency Payment, the Re-Open Saskatchewan Training Subsidy, the Strong Recovery Adaptation Rebate and the Saskatchewan Tourism Sector Support Program.
"It's a time when we need to make sure that every engine of the government is directed toward making sure that we're creating or recreating every possible job," Opposition Leader Ryan Meili said.
The NDP said the main job losses are in the service sector and the goods producing sector. Meili said that while there's no question the pandemic is the cause of the vast majority of these job losses, the province is still on the hook for getting people back to work.
"We cannot continue to let this party just try to spin a rosy picture, try to say things are going fine and clearly for 23,000 folks are out of work. Things aren't going fine."
Meili said the government not instituting a circuit-breaker lockdown in November to stop the second wave of COVID-19 was a significant factor in many people in the service industry being out of work.