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The main river breaks its banks and flows over the main bridge in downtown High River, Alta. (Chris Bolin For The Globe and Mail)
The main river breaks its banks and flows over the main bridge in downtown High River, Alta. (Chris Bolin For The Globe and Mail)

Alberta's floods washed away jobs – but not permanently Add to ...

We won’t have to wait much longer to get a broad measure of the economic impact of Alberta’s June floods: Gross domestic product data for that month, and the second quarter, are due out Friday. But Statistics Canada gave us a little taste of what we might expect Tuesday, with some telling details of the impact of the high waters on Alberta’s labour activity.

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Statscan said 300,000 workers, or 13.5 per cent of the province’s work force, lost work time as a result of the floods – a combined 7.5 million hours of work time. But that’s only one side of the equation. The flood also resulted in 2.4 million additional hours for 134,000 people, or 6 per cent of the work force.

The net result? Alberta lost 5.1 million hours of work in the second half of June due to flood effects.

Let’s consider what that means for the country as a whole. Canada’s 19-million-strong labour force worked a total of 590 million hours in June (that’s about 31 hours a week, on average). So, 5.1 million net hours lost to the floods represents 0.9 per cent of the country’s total work hours in the second half of the month – or about 0.45 per cent over the entire month.

Looking at it another way, 5.1 million hours is the equivalent of 164,000 worker-weeks. Spread over an entire month, that’s like the equivalent of 88,000 workers not working that month.

So, it’s a significant number, although not necessarily an economy-crippling one on a nationwide basis. Obviously, a month in which Canada lost 88,000 jobs would be a pretty awful month, and would certainly be a significant drag on GDP growth. (It last happened in early 2009.)

But the good news is, those jobs weren’t actually lost. Those people, for the most part, went back to work after the flood waters subsided. Indeed, it’s certain that other people were hired, or received increased work hours, once the massive flood cleanup began in July.

The biggest losses of flood-related work hours, not surprisingly, were in the natural resource sectors, followed by professional, scientific and technical services. (That, no doubt, encompasses the oil field services industry.) On the hours-gained side, construction workers picked up the most additional work (again, no surprise), followed by public administration – evidence that a lot of government workers worked tirelessly to help flood victims and get the province back on its feet.

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