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The worst cities to try to find a job in Canada

[Despite its spectacular giant nickel, Suddbury, Ont. is top of the list. / The Canadian Press]

Sudbury, the hub of Ontario’s mining sector, continues to have the worst labour market of Canada’s 33 largest cities, according to this month’s edition of BMO’s Labour Market Report Card.

The city, founded on the back of Canada’s booming nickel ore industry, has since become a poster child for the struggling commodities market with its population only growing 0.2 per cent and employment falling 7 per cent versus last February’s numbers. The city stood at 33 on the list with unemployment at 8.4 per cent, nearly a point and a half higher than the national 7.2 per cent unemployment rate.

“Cities have to achieve a certain critical size before they can rely on their own internal circular economy to take hold,” says Rafael Gomez, director of the Centre for Industrial Relations and Human Resources at the University of Toronto. “If single industry doesn’t lead to other spin offs and grow a city size beyond a level of several hundreds of thousands of people then when the one or two industries close you’re trapped because those industries were essentially creating the viability of every other service sector job there.”

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While the Greater Sudbury Area’s economy has grown to include other services like retail and healthcare, roughly 36 per cent of those employed in Ontario’s mining sector calls the region home. Nickel, a key ingredient in steel, was the worst performing commodity in 2015 losing nearly 42 per cent of its value.

Gomez points to other resource-driven economic centres – like Saint John, N.B. in 30th place and unemployment at 8.3 per cent; Thunder Bay, Ont., in 29th and 6.5 per cent unemployment; Saquenay, Que., in 28th with unemployment rates at 7.6 per cent; and St. John’s, N.L. in 25th with unemployment at 6.7 per cent – which despite efforts to diversify their economies still suffer from their long-running ties to a single industry.

“St. John’s was doing pretty well when oil was high and the offshore oil industry was creating a lot of spin off jobs in the mainland,” he says. “Now labour market prospects for people are much reduced.”

Ontario has seen a resurgence with the weakening of the Canadian dollar, adding 19,800 jobs in January, boosting employment growth to 1.5 per cent. But despite the rosy outlook for the province’s manufacturing sector, Windsor, which landed near the bottom on BMO’s report card at 31st, continues to carry the countries highest unemployment at 9.3 per cent. Youth are the hardest hit by the embattled economy there, with unemployment amongst that demographic hitting a staggering 22 per cent in January, according to StatsCan.

Kelowna, B.C. and both Peterborough and St. Catherines in Ontario also made the bottom ten at 32, 27 and 26 respectively, albeit not because of ties to resources or manufacturing.

“They benefit from high housing prices in places like Vancouver and Toronto becoming viable commuter cities,” explains Gomez. “So that creates spin off growth and opportunities in those centres especially from ancillary.”

Their ties to certain major cities reverberates out, causing employment to come and go in bursts as the cities add new services like big box retailers or personal services.

Montreal, which sits at 24th, has become a mainstay in the bottom ten of Canada’s labour markets with population keeping pace with employment growth at 0.9 per cent yet an unemployment rate of 8.6 per cent.

“I think without a natural fast growing population base of your own you need to attract outside capital and Quebec has a hard time,” says Gomez. He points out that while the province produces a lot of indigenous companies that do well and boasts a fairly strong and innovative cultural sector, it’s not growing fast enough to warrant major investments from outside employers.

“You can say Montreal might be looking bad given it doesn’t have a single, big employment and revenue generator, it’s diversified enough that it can exist without a successful single industry,” says the labour market expert. “It’s like an investment portfolio, your returns will tend to be lower but the variance will be lower too – the trade off (is) it creates a more stable labour market.”

The Bottom Ten

24. Montreal, Que.
25. St. John’s, N.L.
26. St. Catharine’s, Ont.
27. Peterborough, Ont.
28. Saquenay, Que.
29. Thunder Bar, Ont.
30. Saint John, N.B.
31. Windsor, Ont.
32. Kelowna, B.C.
33. Sudbury, Ont.