Local challenges require local solutions
Jasper’s unique location in the heart of the Canadian Rockies has earned it an international reputation as one of the most beautiful places in the world, but beyond the snow-capped mountains and meandering rivers what makes Jasper special is also its biggest challenge.
Located in a national park and on the fringes of the provincial border, Jasper’s faces an unusual set of circumstances that are by and large unique to our tiny mountain town.
Take for instance news this week that there are nearly 400 job vacancies in the community and nobody to fill them.
At first glance this doesn’t sound like a terribly bad problem to have when you consider the provincial unemployment rate is 7.8 per cent, but the perennial labour shortage in Jasper makes it difficult to do business here.
Part of the problem is that Jasper is an anomaly among a select group of other tourism-based municipalities in the province that includes Banff, Lake Louise and to some extent Canmore.
To get a sense of the complex situation just look at the Temporary Foreign Worker (TFW) program, which has completely failed to address Jasper’s labour shortage.
In 2014 the federal government tightened the rules restricting employers in the low-wage service sector from hiring TFWs if the regional unemployment rate is six per cent or higher.
The idea was to encourage employers to hire Canadians first.
While well intended, the problem is the labour force survey that the TFW program uses to evaluate whether a business in Jasper is allowed to hire temporary foreign workers, also known as a Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA), covers a vast economic region that doesn’t take into consideration our local circumstances.
Currently the unemployment rate in our economic region is 6.9 per cent, but if you look at the number of job vacancies in town the numbers don’t seem to add up and here’s why.
Jasper is part of an economic region that stretches from Canmore to Peace River, spanning tens of thousands of square kilometres that encompasses dozens of communities each with their own set of circumstances.
For example, tourism-based communities such as Jasper, Banff and Lake Louise regularly struggle to attract and retain employees during the busy summer months, while communities such as Whitecourt, Peace River and Grand Prairie rely on the oil and gas sector, which have been hit hard in recent years.
By lumping all of these communities together into one economic region it skews the unemployment rate and ignores the facts on the ground.
On one hand you have communities like ours that are booming while on the other hand you have communities that are barely treading water, creating vast discrepancies in the unemployment rate.
If the federal government is truly interested in helping all Canadians prosper its time the government reexamines the TFW program and the economic regions tourism-based communities belong to because a cookie cutter approach is simply not working.