PORT TOWNSEND, Wash. (MarketWatch) — “The biggest risks to the Canadian economy,” read the headline in a Vancouver daily this week, “are all global uncertainties that lie outside its borders.” Unlike the situation in America these days, Canada’s employment problems aren’t nearly as political and systemic.
The disappointing news last week that the Canadian economy shed 5,000 jobs last month, marking the second month in a row for job losses, according to Statistics Canada, also carried some good news as well: Most of those job losses were in part-time positions. Full-time jobs created were actually up.
And there’s far more hope in Canada these days than you’ll find in the U.S. in many areas, economically and otherwise. And there are several good reasons for it, not least of which is that while the U.S. will probably continue shipping jobs to China, Canada will be shipping oil to it.
Canada’s unemployment rate in August inched up to 7.3 per cent, rising by 0.1 percentage points from July’s 7.2 percent. The U.S. unemployment rate is over 9 percent.
Granted, the European debt crisis and the struggling U.S. economy are major factors weighing on the fragile but still-recovering Canadian economy, which has regained all its job losses from the recession. (Canada didn’t have a mortgage crisis because its banks are stronger and they’re far more regulated, which has helped its smaller economy greatly.)
Even though Canada’s jobless rate is lower than America’s and is nowhere near, say, that of Spain’s, which tops 20 per cent, Canada’s top leadership has turned its attention to jobs recently -- and there’s not even an election looming. Plus, unlike his American counterpart, Prime Minister Stephen Harper can actually do something about jobs, since his Conservative Party also controls the nation’s purse strings.
So, unlike that in the U.S., it’s not gloom and doom in the Canadian job market. In the U.S., President Obama’s $447 billion jobs proposal seems likely to be shot down or smothered by a Republican party seemingly hellbent on ending his presidency through whatever means necessary, even economic malfeasance.
Ottawa focused on jobs
Harper’s majority government, meanwhile, now seems more and more likely to hold off a bit on its deficit-reduction program these days and fund more jobs That’s quite a different scenario than the one in the taxphobic, Tea Party-infected U.S.
True, Harper’s Conservatives won their majority in Parliament partly by promising to cut spending and return to a balanced budget by mid-decade. But mostly, it was because of the ineptitude of its main opposition, the Liberal Party, and its feckless former leader, Michael Ignatieff.
Officials in Ottawa haven’t said yet what measures Harper might take to goose Canadian job creation But the 2011 Canadian budget contains several targeted measures to create jobs, such as money for energy retrofits and incentives for the private sector to hire.
Several of those programs are scheduled to expire with the current fiscal year, but extending some of them would be among the steps Harper’s government could take.
While the U.S. continues to export jobs to China, Canada will probably be exporting more and more oil there in the years ahead. Accounts receivable are preferable to debt.
It would doubtless be wise if the U.S. and Canada would move away from their petroleum-dependent economies, but alas, that’s not likely to happen any time soon. But, unlike the U.S., Canada is a net oil exporter. And flush Canadian suitor China’s energy-hungry economy wants — needs — increasing amounts of oil.
China is a promising part of the Canadian jobs picture — and indirectly, that of the U.S:
Canada’s oil-sands production of bitumen is expanding rapidly, and China is pressing Ottawa to build a pipeline to British Columbia so it can get at that crude more easily. Alberta’s Energy Minister Ronald Liepert said in New York last week that Canada’s oil-sands industry is facing a job shortage of 75,000 positions, and he wants to make it easier for unemployed American construction workers to come to that oil-rich province to work. Alberta’s oil-sands industry will double production in the next decade, he said.
Plus, a shortage of qualified Canadian workers as Baby Boomers retire is the reason most often cited for Canada’s increasing legal immigration. That’s another big difference in Canada and the U.S. these days.
So, it’s not all doom and gloom, even in a cooling Canadian jobs market, where, over the past year, the economy still has created almost 225,000 jobs, an increase of 1.5 per cent. Full-Time work is up by 2.2 per cent, and part-time jobs down by 2.3 per cent, says Statistics Canada.
So, to borrow a familiar U.S. political phrase, there is reason to keep hope alive in Canada, even with sluggish and sometimes-shaky world and U.S. economies heavily weighing on it.
Hope is definitely something that’s still easier to find in Canada, where the government in Ottawa, even a nominally conservative one, isn’t as paralyzed or polarized as it is in the U.S. As we’ve noted, Canada’s Conservative Party is much closer to the U.S. Democratic Party than it is to the GOP on the political spectrum.
So overall, the latest disappointing jobs report isn’t ominous. John Clinkard, chief economist for Canada at Deutsche Bank AG, told the Toronto Globe and Mail that he sees it as a lull rather than a slump, and said the spate of full-time job growth for much of this year shows the underlying strength in Canada’s jobs market.
And we’ll take full-time jobs to those part-timers any day.
Bill Mann is a MarketWatch columnist, based in Port Townsend, Wash.