Albertans should expect some job losses, economists say

Two economists warned Albertans on Friday to expect some job losses given the "global economic malaise and drop in energy prices."
GE Money is closing its Edmonton call centre in early 2009, resulting in the loss of about 250 jobs. ((CBC))

Two economists warned Albertans on Friday to expect some job losses given the "global economic malaise and drop in energy prices."

The unemployment rate in Alberta dipped last month to 3.4 per cent from 3.7 per cent in October, according to new numbers released Friday by Statistics Canada.

But that figure masks a possibly grimmer economic reality.

"In Alberta, there was a net loss of 3,700 jobs in November, which comes on the heels of two months of very strong job growth," say ATB Financial economists Todd Hirsch and Dan Sumner in an analysis of the Statistics Canada data.

The provincial unemployment rate only dropped because "more people left the workforce," Hirsch and Sumner write.

A loss of 8,900 full-time jobs was offset by gains in part-time jobs. So far this year, employment is up 2.1 per cent in Alberta, Statistics Canada found.

"But, without question, that pace will moderate in the months ahead," Hirsch and Sumner say. "Alberta’s job market will not manoeuvre through this downturn completely unscathed."

Nationally, the unemployment rate edged up slightly to 6.3 per cent from 6.2 per cent in October. Of the total of 70,600 jobs lost during November, 66,000 were in Ontario, Statistics Canada said.

Calgary businesses cautious

This week, two Alberta companies announced hundreds of layoffs.

About 400 people are out of work after Calgary-based ATCO Structures lost a contract to build a work camp for an oilsands mine north of Fort McMurray. GE Money announced Wednesday it will be closing its Edmonton call centre in early 2009 and laying off 250 employees.

A semi-trailer transports an ATCO modular structure from the company's Calgary warehouse. ATCO is cutting 400 jobs in Calgary. ((CBC))

Calgary resident Fraser Calhoun is looking for a job. He was hired as a restaurant server to help out over the Christmas season, but he got laid off. 

"There was a high demand right when I was getting into it, and then the markets took more of a downturn and [my boss] realized his clientele was disappearing," Calhoun said.  

Calhoun's former employer isn't the only restaurateur experiencing a slower holiday season. Clayton Morgan, the owner of The Belvedere in downtown Calgary, said fewer corporate clients are brokering deals over meals, causing his sales to drop 20 per cent.

"There's not a lot of business being done out there. The credit crunch is affecting everyone," Morgan said.

The crunch is also hurting local musicians who bank on being busy during the holiday season. Companies are scaling down their lavish parties or cancelling them all together, booking agents said.

"This is my eighth Christmas doing this and I have not seen this many cancellations occur in such a short period of time. We really started to see it after the end of September," said Patrick McGannon of PM Gigs.

Companies in Calgary are tightening their belts in hopes of avoiding layoffs, said Elsbeth Mehrer, a spokeswoman for Calgary Economic Development.

"We don't know how long and how deep this economic situation will continue," she said. "So I think organizations will try to hold on as long as they can."