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Labour Market Conditions Ease in the Prairie Provinces But Tighten in BC

By Ken Peacock

Labour market conditions in Western Canada have changed significantly in the past year or so.  Amid the dramatic fall in oil prices and generally soft prices for many other key commodities, the ranks of the unemployed have increased in all three Prairie Provinces in recent quarters. Consistent with a rise in unemployment, the number of job vacancies in each of the three Prairie provinces has dwindled. In BC, however, these labour market metrics have been the reverse: the number of unemployed has remained stable or edged down while job vacancies have climbed. 

The result is that the unemployment-to-job vacancy ratio has jumped in the other three western provinces but declined in BC.  The unemployment-to-job vacancy ratio measures how many unemployed persons there are for every job opening in a province. In BC, this ratio now sits at 3.8, down from 4.1 a year ago and 5.4 in May 2013.  In Alberta and Saskatchewan, the ratio of unemployment-to-job vacancies has doubled in less than a year.  In Manitoba the increase has been less dramatic, but the ratio is higher than in BC.  

These are aggregate figures which do not necessarily reflect conditions in particular industries or regions of the individual provinces.  The numbers do suggest, however, that labour market conditions are now tighter in BC than in Alberta, Saskatchewan or Manitoba – a very different picture than one or two years back.  Even so, based on this particular metric BC’s labour market is not as tight as what prevailed in Alberta or Saskatchewan during the 2012-2014 period.