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Here’s what’s really going on in Ontario’s job market

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The vast majority of workers in Ontario haven’t experienced anything quite like it their entire working lives: a labour market tilted in their favour.

Statistics show unemployment running as low as it’s ever been, record-high job vacancy numbers and unprecedented labour force participation rates.

The labour market is “the tightest it’s been in half a century, and it’s not unique to Ontario,” says economist Armine Yalnizyan. “It’s happening all through the global north, wherever there was a baby boom after the Second World War.”

“There’s a traffic jam of employers looking to hire,” says Brendon Bernard, senior economist at Indeed, a job-search website.

This article launches a year-long project by CBC Toronto called “Workers Wanted.” It will delve into what’s happening in the job market in the GTA and around the province, the impact on employers and employees, possible solutions to the labour crunch and how the changing workforce affects our daily lives. Do you have a story to tell? Get in touch via the callout at the bottom of this story.

This profound shift in the job market has implications for just about everybody, whether you’re an ordinary worker, an employer, a political leader, or someone waiting to get care in a hospital or service in a restaurant.

It could bring about significant changes in the world of work — from recruitment tactics to workplace culture to salaries — but that largely depends on how governments and employers respond.

Two hospital workers wearing scrubs walk in a hospital hallway.
The federal government is allowing certain employers, including hospitals and the food services industry, to fill up to 30 per cent of jobs with temporary foreign workers. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Premier Doug Ford spoke of “endless employment opportunities” in Ontario during a news conference in Brampton last month.

“You could walk down every street in this province and find a job in every single sector. We need 380,000 people to fill the existing jobs that we have right now,” Ford said.

The most recent figures from Statistics Canada show 372,000 job vacancies in Ontario during the third quarter of 2022. That’s nearly double the average number of vacancies (195,000) reported during the three years leading up to 2020.

But how good are these jobs? For a fuller picture of what’s really going on in the labour market, take a deeper look into what Statistics Canada found about the current vacancies:

  • 60 per cent of the job vacancies in Ontario required no more than high school education, paying on average less than $20 an hour.
  • Nearly 200,000 jobs required less than one year of experience.
  • More than one-third of the job vacancies were in sales and service.

Still, the overall dynamics of the job market in the province differ substantially from how things were before the COVID-19 pandemic.

Politicians and business leaders sometimes describe what’s happening as a worker shortage, but that framing doesn’t sit well with some observers.

“I’m not sure that it’s so much a shortage of workers as a shortage of employers that are willing to pay the wages necessary to get people to work for them,” said Don Wright, former head of the public service in British Columbia, now a fellow with the Public Policy Forum think tank.

Bernard also pushes back against the use of the term “worker shortage,” saying it has negative connotations and lacks precision.

“I tend to focus more on the balance of strength and power in the labour market when it comes to job seekers versus employers,” Bernard said in an interview.

The way this balance of power has shifted should force employers to shift their mindset, particularly when it comes to compensation, says Yalnizyan, the Atkinson Foundation’s fellow on the future of work.

“They’ve had 40 years of labour surpluses and they still think workers are a dime a dozen,” Yalnizyan said in an interview.

Economist Armine Yalnizyan, the Atkinson Foundation’s fellow for the future of work, says the sectors with the greatest difficulty finding workers tend to be the ones with the poorest pay and working conditions. She says those employers need to rethink their approach to hiring. (Christian Patry/CBC)

“Businesses that are raising wages and improving working conditions, offering more flexibility in how people take time off or offering more benefits, those places are finding it much easier to fully staff their businesses.”

Not all employers are prepared to do that.

Making current staff work more

Even among Canadian businesses that considered labour force shortages to be an obstacle, less than two-thirds planned to offer current employees a wage increase, less than half planned to boost wages to lure new hires, and only one in five planned to enhance employee benefits, according to a Statistics Canada report last year.

So how do companies intend to deal with the labour crunch? That same report found that half of all businesses said they expected current management and staff to work more.

The federal government’s primary solution is to bring in more workers from outside the country.

The Trudeau government quietly launched its biggest-ever expansion of Canada’s temporary foreign worker (TFW) program last year.

A Help Wanted sign.
The most recent figures from Statistics Canada show 372,000 job vacancies in Ontario, nearly double the average in the three years before the COVID-19 pandemic began. (Laura Meader/CBC)

The changes mean that temporary foreign workers can now make up 30 per cent of an employer’s workforce in certain sectors, including accommodation and food services, construction, some manufacturing industries, nursing homes and hospitals.

In all other sectors, employers can now hire up to 20 per cent of their staff from the TFW program, double the previous cap of 10 per cent.

Hiring more temporary foreign workers

Employers leapt at the opportunity.

Approvals to fill Ontario jobs with temporary foreign workers more than doubled in the July-September 2022 period compared with the same months in the previous year, according to the most recently available federal statistics.

In sales and service occupations in Ontario, the number of approvals to hire temporary foreign workers tripled.

Wright — who describes himself as “a big proponent of healthy levels of immigration” — questions the wisdom of this approach.

“This notion of, ‘I’m a business, I can’t get workers to work at the wage I want to pay, therefore the government should fix that problem,’ I just think is really misguided,” Wright said in an interview.

For its part, the Ford government is also looking at other ways to expand Ontario’s labour pool, such as streamlining accreditation for certain foreign-trained professionals and tradespeople, or expanding programs designed to help the long-term unemployed get into the workforce.

The labour crunch is undoubtedly most acute in certain sectors of the Ontario economy. You can see that measured by the job vacancy rate: the number of unfilled jobs as a percentage of the employed labour force.

From 2017 through 2019, Ontario’s job vacancy rate averaged 3.1 per cent across all sectors. Over the past year, it’s averaged 5.3 per cent.

Particularly high job vacancy rates are currently found in restaurants and bars (10.2 per cent), nursing homes (8.5 per cent), truck transportation (8 per cent) and building construction (7.7 per cent), according to Statistics Canada.

If the Bank of Canada gets its way, the labour market will shift back toward employers.

“Companies continue to tell us they’re having trouble attracting all the workers they need. That’s a symptom of an overheated economy,” governor Tiff Macklem said Wednesday in a news conference following the Bank of Canada’s announcement of another increase to its benchmark interest rate.

“Part of rebalancing demand and supply in the economy is rebalancing the labour market,” said Macklem.

“We do expect to see some cooling of the labour market. We expect it to come into better balance.”

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Woman found dead in suitcase in Newfoundland; spouse found dead, suspected in killing

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ST. JOHN’S, N.L. – Police in St. John’s, N.L., say a woman’s body was found in a suitcase in the city’s downtown this week and her spouse — who was found dead a day prior — is suspected of killing her.

Royal Newfoundland Constabulary Const. James Cadigan says the 33-year-old Iranian woman’s body was discovered Tuesday night in a suitcase in a vacant lot. He says it had been placed in the area six days before.

Cadigan says her 34-year-old Iranian husband was found dead in his home on Monday.

He says police have not determined whether their deaths involve a murder-suicide, and he says the two “had no involvement” with the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary prior to the discovery of their bodies.

Cadigan says the woman arrived in Newfoundland on May 15 and the man had been living in downtown St. John’s for several years.

Police are not releasing their names to protect their family’s privacy, and are looking for any information from the public about what happened.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 19, 2024.

The Canadian Press. All rights reserved.



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Pilot dead after ultralight plane crash northwest of Fredericton

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FREDERICTON – The pilot of an ultralight plane died after the aircraft crashed in a cornfield about 25 kilometres northwest of Fredericton.

Ken Hodgson, fire chief of Keswick Valley Fire Department, says his team received a call at 11:33 a.m. about a crash in Burtts Corner, N.B., along Route 104, which links the province to Nova Scotia.

Hodgson says there were no other casualties.

Ambulance New Brunswick, the coroner’s office and RCMP also responded to the crash.

In a news release, the Transportation Safety Board of Canada says it deployed a team of investigators to an “aircraft accident near Fredericton.”

But the agency did not immediately respond to questions asking for details about the crash.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 19, 2024.

The Canadian Press. All rights reserved.

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B.C. Interior residents get ready to go as erupting wildfire threatens

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It’s the first time The Inn at Spences Bridge has been empty since April.

Dorothy Boragno, who owns the inn with her husband Michael Findlay, said Friday they watched thick smoke across the Thompson River from the out-of-control Shetland Creek wildfire that has already forced others to evacuate.

“We’ve been through fires before, so we know what happens, and if they get close, usually we get firemen to stay at our hotel, so we’re not too worried yet. But it does bring back bad memories,” said Boragno.

The Shetland Creek fire in the southern Interior more than doubled in size from Thursday to Friday, due to what the B.C. Wildfire Service said was “significant overnight growth” and more accurate mapping.

Its rapid spread was part of an eruption of wildfire activity across B.C., with more than 270 burning as of Friday afternoon, most caused by recent lightning storms, then fuelled by hot, dry weather and winds.

The Shetland Creek fire is now listed at 132 square kilometres in size, up from 57 square kilometres, and has prompted evacuation orders and alerts in the communities of Spences Bridge, Ashcroft and part of Cache Creek, east of Kamloops.

The BC Wildfire Service says the fire advanced about six kilometres in a northwest direction parallel to Highway 1 Thursday night.

It is considered the only “wildfire of note” in B.C., meaning it is highly visible or poses a potential threat to public safety or infrastructure.

The wildfire service says 71 firefighters and six helicopters are battling the blaze in addition to structure protection personnel, heavy equipment operators, and an incident management team.

The Thompson-Nicola Regional District expanded an evacuation order in front of the fire on Thursday evening to cover about 85 properties in the Venables Valley area, while the Cook’s Ferry Indian Band has issued orders for several reserves along the Thompson River.

Hundreds of other properties are subject to an evacuation alert, with the district telling them to be ready to leave on short notice.

The Village of Cache Creek on Friday issued an evacuation alert because of the fire out of an “abundance of caution.” The alert includes the Cache Creek Regional Airport and nine other properties, but the main sections of the village are not yet on alert.

The Village of Ashcroft is also under an evacuation alert and Mayor Barbara Roden said Friday that the fire’s aggressive behaviour is “very concerning.”

“So, residents are very on edge. They have been ever since this fire started and it was clear that it was going to be heading in this direction,” she said. “It’s been thick smoke here for the last few days even though the fire is still several kilometres away, there’s ash falling on everything here in Ashcroft.”

The nearby Ashcroft Indian Band, which is also on evacuation alert, posted a notice on Facebook Friday, saying band leaders understand that “everyone is on edge with the Shetland Creek Fire burning nearby.”

The statement said they are in constant contact with the BC Wildfire Service, getting updates when available and they appreciate everyone’s co-operation in conserving water they have in the reservoirs to “use in a worst-case scenario.”

“In the meantime, we have our maintenance and fire mitigation crews out in the community adding more fireguards around the south and east side. As an additional piece to our regular fire mitigation practices, they are clearing debris and flammable fuels from around power poles and hydrants and we have a water tank on a trailer with hoses ready to go.”

Boragno said they are also ready to get out, with a cat cage and a bag of “special stuff” ready next to the door.

She said it was touching to see the whole town pull together with people helping each other out, because no one likes going through this.

“It brings back huge trauma for people who lost their homes and stuff,” said Boragno.

Cliff Chapman with the BC Wildfire Service said Thursday the province appeared to be “on the precipice of a very challenging 72 hours” with hot weather, dry lightning and strong winds in the forecast.

Environment Canada on Friday issued a series of severe thunderstorm watches across much of the B.C. Interior, and a severe thunderstorm warning for the Stuart-Nechako region in the north.

The storms mostly overlap the almost 30 areas that are also under heat warnings, and while they may bring hail and rain, they also bring lightning and winds that trigger and fuel fires. The heat warnings span most of the southern Interior and stretch up through central B.C. into the northeast, along with inland sections of the north and central coasts.

The weather office says much of the Interior is expected to see temperatures in the 30s over the coming days, along with overnight lows in the mid-teens.

For Roden the forecast offers little hope for relief with temperatures topping 40 degrees, but she’s hopeful that people will remain calm and ready to leave if it comes to that.

“So, you’ve got the smoke, you’ve got the ash, you’ve got the heat,” she said. “All these factors coming together are making people very edgy, very nervous. They’re remembering fires past and, and it’s the uncertainty.”

Roden said the village had fires in 2017 and 2021 “on our doorstep.”

“Part of my job as mayor is to try to ensure that people don’t panic,” she added. “I cannot think of any situation that has ever been improved by people panicking.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 19, 2024.

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