Alberta ended 2019 with more job losses and 'mild recession': reports

Alberta's economy ended 2019 on a sour note, according to reports released Thursday.

Conference Board says province should return to economic growth in 2020 and 2021

Alberta's economy contracted slightly in 2019, according to the latest estimates from the Conference Board of Canada, but it should return to growth in 2020 and 2021 due to 'rebounding investment and production in the energy sector.' (Larry MacDougal/Canadian Press)

Alberta's economy ended 2019 on a sour note, according to two reports released Thursday.

Statistics Canada said the number of payroll jobs in the province fell for the fourth straight month, dwindling to 2.029 million in December.

That's about 9,000 fewer jobs than in August, which was the high point for the year.

The numbers come from the latest Survey of Employment, Payroll and Hours, which measures jobs from a variety of sources, including payroll-tax data. It does not include jobs from self-employment.

Meanwhile, the Conference Board of Canada released a report saying Alberta's economy shrunk slightly in 2019, with real GDP contracting by 0.2 per cent compared to the year before.

"Difficult operating conditions in the energy sector led many oil and gas companies to slash their 2019 spending plans, deleverage debt and focus on shoring up their financial positions," the report reads.

"The bad news on the energy front was not contained to investment. Oil production was limited under the government-imposed cap, and a number of oilsands facilities suspended operations for maintenance."

It all added up to what the Conference Board describes as a "mild recession" in 2019, but one that should be short-lived.

"Rebounding investment and production in the energy sector is the key factor underpinning the province's economic recovery," the report says, with forecast growth of 2.2 per cent this year and 2.3 per cent next year.

The Conference Board cited improvements in midstream companies' pipeline efficiency and the continued raising of the provincial oil-production cap as reasons for the rosier outlook, as well as "bigger milestones" such as the looming replacement of Enbridge's Line 3 pipeline and the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.

"This all adds up to more growth opportunities in the oilsands. And the opportunities should continue to improve," the report reads.

The report goes on to say that the economic rebound "will be tempered by significant public sector restraint, which will weigh on growth over the next few years."

"Where the Alberta outlook is not so bright is in government spending," it reads. "Its public sector is one of the largest employers and sources of job growth in the province. With various departments facing harsh spending cuts, new hires will be limited — and, in some cases, layoffs are imminent."

Alberta's 2020 budget was released Thursday afternoon.


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