There’s been lots of talk during the campaign about the territorial economy flat-lining, and the most recent unemployment numbers make the picture darker. According to the NWT Bureau of Statistics, the overall unemployment rate for the NWT is 9.1 per cent (compared to 6.8 per cent for Canada as a whole). To put it in more human terms, there are an additional 400 people unemployed last month compared to the same month one year ago. Most of the newly unemployed are youth ages 15-24. It’s not just that summer jobs are over, because unemployment is up compared to October 2014.
Exploration for minerals, oil and gas is slow. There’s only one mine under construction – Gahcho Kue. It’s time to look at creating diversified and sustainable jobs closer to home. These are jobs that would replace (at least partially) imported goods, such as wood pellets, food and fishing. Or they are jobs that would expand existing markets in trapping, arts and crafts, and tourism, to name a few. Jobs in these areas offer more options for work, draw on existing skills and enable people to remain in their home communities. The GNWT could be doing more to stimulate the growth of these sustainable and diversified jobs by, for example, completing the agriculture strategy.
These local economy jobs come with attractive “economic multipliers” when compared with the non-renewable resource industry. See the chart above. For a $1 million investment in forestry, there’s a return of 23.4 direct, indirect and induced jobs. Fishing, hunting and trapped are good economic bets as well as arts, entertainment and recreation. Oil and gas extraction offers the fewest jobs per dollar invested, second to diamond mining.
The take away message here is that we need to look at ways to diversify our economy and move away from the boom and bust of the non-renewable resource sector, now in a bust. Diversification offers attractive prospects for sustainable employment. Wood, fishing and tourism will not create as much wealth for GNWT as mining but they will create more local employment. Creating more jobs is good for everyone.