Some of Canada's mid-sized cities are flourishing – but not all: Almost half of them have not recouped the jobs they lost during the recession.
New analysis by the Conference Board of Canada finds that 21 of the 46 medium-sized cities it tracks haven't yet seen employment return to pre-recession levels.
In some cases, the decline is dramatic. Labour markets in New Glasgow, N.S.; Miramichi, N.B.; Saint-Hyacinthe, Que.; Medicine Hat, Alta.; and Vernon, B.C., have suffered a marked drop in the past decade.
"This is a troubling turn of events, given that these mid-sized cities play an important role as economic engines in their respective regions," said Mario Lefebvre, director of the Centre for Municipal Studies. While the country – at an aggregate level – may have regained the jobs lost in the recession, "the employment picture has been uneven among Canada's mid-sized cities over the past decade or so."
Six mid-sized cities posted average job gains of at least 3 per cent a year – which amounts to growth of more than 20 per cent in the past seven years. They are: Brockville and Leamington in Ontario; Lethbridge and Wood Buffalo in Alberta; and Chilliwack and Duncan in British Columbia.
Most of these cities had been bustling up until the 2008-2009 recession. But the ensuing downturn caused economies to contract in 29 of the cities tracked. The recession was "particularly painful" for medium-sized cities in Ontario, the report said, where economies shrank in all 11 of these urban centres. By contrast, seven of 10 mid-sized cities in Atlantic Canada posted growth even through this period.
Growth generally picked up after the recession – only to then peter out in many cities. Between 2011 and last year, 13 cities saw their economies contract.
This is the Conference Board's first such study on mid-sized cities, which crunched numbers on changes in economic output and employment between 2005 and last year. It includes economist forecasts on eight cities (which helped fund the research): Fredericton, N.B.; Sept-Îles, Que.; Rimouski, Que.; Granby, Que.; Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que.; Brandon, Man.; Lethbridge, Alta.; and Red Deer, Alta.
Here are some observations from the report:
• Charlottetown has posted economic growth every year from 2005 to last year, and created more than 4,000 new jobs since then.
• Miramichi, N.B.'s economic output has fallen every year since 2005. Both its 2012 real GDP and employment levels were less than half of levels of eight years ago.
• Cape Breton, N.S.'s economy has grown every year since 2005, though employment last year was essentially the same as in the mid-2000s.
• Sept-Îles's output and employment have grown "solidly" in the eight-year period, which the report attributes to a rising population.
• Saint-Hyacinthe's economy has been declining for eight years, and both real GDP and employment levels are nearly half of what they were in 2005.
• Leamington has posted "explosive" economic growth in the past three years after a soft period between 2005 and 2009.
• Brockville has seen strong growth since 2005 and added 4,500 new jobs in the region.
• Economies in the Ontario centres of Kawartha Lakes, Cornwall, Norfolk, Sarnia, North Bay and Sault Ste. Marie were about the same size in 2012 as they were 2005.
• Chatham-Kent, Ont.'s economy shrank in six of the eight years.
• Wood Buffalo, with proximity to Fort McMurray, has tallied growth of 6.5 per cent a year on average since 2005, and added almost 17,000 new jobs.
• Medicine Hat's economy contracted for five straight years between 2008 and 2012, and 14,000 jobs were lost in that time.
• Chilliwack was one of the fastest-growing mid-sized economies in the country in the eight-year period, with average annual GDP growth of 6.2 per cent.
• Vernon's economy has contracted for five consecutive years.