April 8, 2020

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Long climb ahead to new job-growth heights

Opinion

Premier Brian Pallister may have a tough time making good on his election pledge to create 40,000 new private-sector jobs over four years, if 2019 is any indication.

Manitoba employment 2019

Click to Expand

Number of people working:

January: 657,700

November: 651,800

Difference: minus-5,900

 

Full-time

January: 527,200

November: 528,000

Difference: plus-800

 

Part-time

January: 130,500

November: 123,800

Difference: minus-6,700

— source: Statistics Canada

Manitoba has the third-worst job growth in the country this year, according to a Manitoba Bureau of Statistics report released last week. Meanwhile, employment has been tumbling since January.

Pallister pledged over the summer (and again during the fall election) that a re-elected Tory government would create 40,000 new private-sector jobs over the next four years. It’s a commitment the premier reiterated during his state of the province speech Thursday at RBC Convention Centre.

"We’ll achieve our 40,000 new jobs over the next four years, we’ll do it together," Pallister said.

The premier says it’s a realistic goal that can be achieved through measures such as lowering taxes, reducing trade barriers, and streamlining permitting and licensing services.

That may be, but so far this year, Manitoba’s employment growth has been anemic.

Job growth from January to November is up only one per cent, compared to the same period last year, according to the MBS report (which uses Statistics Canada data). It marks the third-lowest rate among the provinces, behind only New Brunswick and Alberta. It’s less than half the national average.

The good news is most of those new jobs were full-time (5,500 out of 6,300) — but it’s nowhere near the 10,000-a-year growth rate needed to meet the 40,000 mark.

The bad news is employment in Manitoba has been falling throughout 2019, as the province lost 5,900 jobs from January to November.

The average job numbers for that period are still higher than the same period in 2018, but employment has been weakening throughout the year. Year-over-year (November 2018 compared to November 2019) is also down 900 jobs.

Fortunately, all of those job losses have been in the part-time category (StatsCan includes part- and full-time when calculating total employment).

That may change if the economy picks up or if the Tories’ prescription for growth kicks in over the next two or three years. But at the moment, Manitoba’s job picture is anything but rosy.

 

It’s slightly better when looking back over the past three years: Manitoba created 18,900 jobs from November 2016 (632,900) to November 2019 (651,800). That growth was all in full-time employment (the number of part-time jobs declined during that period).

That’s an average of 6,300 new jobs a year. It provides some idea of how far the province has to go to hit 10,000.

In order to get there, Manitoba’s economy will have to grow a lot faster than it has over the past two years. The province’s real GDP grew by only 1.3 per cent in 2018, and is projected to grow at a similar rate this year. Most forecasters are projecting a slight increase (1.5 to 1.7 per cent) in 2020 — probably not enough to drive job growth much higher than in recent years.

That’s not to say the measures the Pallister government has laid out won’t work. Tax relief, improved interprovincial trade, and a streamlined permitting process will help; barring external factors such as a global recession, those changes will likely improve employment numbers.

What’s unclear is how quickly the province can implement such moves. Pallister has pledged some tax relief next year, and he’s promised to start phasing out education property taxes after the provincial books are balanced (expected in 2022).

It’s even less clear how long it might take to translate into improved job growth.

For now, Manitoba’s job market has been anything but robust. The province has a long way to go to reach the Tory target.

tom.brodbeck@freepress.mb.ca

Tom Brodbeck

Tom Brodbeck
Columnist

Tom has been covering Manitoba politics since the early 1990s and joined the Winnipeg Free Press news team in 2019.

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