Manitoba boasted one of the country’s lowest unemployment rates for off-reserve aboriginal workers in 2015, according to a new report from Statistics Canada.
The report, entitled Aboriginal People Living Off-Reserve and the Labour Market: Estimates from the Labour Force Survey, 2007-2015, said the jobless rate for off-reserve aboriginals in Manitoba in 2015 was 10.2 per cent.
That was the second lowest among the seven regions covered in the report. Ontario had the lowest rate at 9.2 per cent, while the national average was 11 per cent.
Manitoba also tied with Saskatchewan for the third-highest employment rate among off-reserve aboriginal workers, at 68.2 per cent — the national average was 67.5 per cent — and had the fourth-highest labour force participation rate at 75.9 per cent. That was equal to the national average.
The report also said while Manitoba had one of the lowest jobless rates for off-reserve aboriginals, it also had the fourth-largest gap between the unemployment rate for off-reserve aboriginals and non-aboriginals at 6.1 per cent — 10.2 per cent versus 4.1 per cent.
It also had the third-largest gap in participation rates and employment rates between the two groups, at 13.4 per cent and 17.4 per cent, respectively.
Local reaction to the Statistics Canada numbers was mixed. Business Council of Manitoba president and CEO Don Leitch said there were some positives to be taken from the report, while Molly McCracken, director of the Manitoba office of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, found little to cheer about.
Leitch said the relatively low unemployment rate shows off-reserve aboriginals are becoming engaged in the labour force. They’re also working in a wide variety of sectors within the economy, he added.
"This report... shows us there is some positive movement there, which is good," he said.
"But my caveat would be that we’ve still got a long way to go."
He said that’s why its important for all levels of government to work more closely together to develop strategies for getting even more aboriginals engaged in the workforce.
McCracken noted the Statistics Canada report doesn’t include unemployment data for aboriginals living on reserves, where jobless rates are traditionally much higher.
She also noted the unemployment rate for off-reserve aboriginals is still a lot higher than the rate for non-aboriginals at both the provincial and national levels.
"As a nation, I think, Canada has to make sure there is no discrepancy between aboriginal and non-aboriginal, and it will be a long, long road, with this spread, to get them there," she said.
"So I guess from our perspective, until it comes much closer... I’m cautious about saying there is anything too positive about it."
Statistics Canada noted Canada’s aboriginal population has historically had lower labour force participation and employment rates, and a higher unemployment rate, than the country’s non-aboriginal population.
It said rates worsened during the 2008-09 economic downturn, rebounded in the three years after the downturn, then took a turn for the worse again in 2014 and 2015.