Inflation fears over labour void: Faster influx of newcomers needed

By Jonathan Charlton, The StarPhoenix November 15, 2013 - Saskatoon needs more workers to prevent inflation, according to a national economist.

The longer Saskatoon's labour shortage lasts, the harder it will be to fix.

The unemployment rate dipped below four per cent this year, but the Conference

Board of Canada forecasts employment growth of just one per cent next year.

"At the end of the day, I certainly don't want to leave people with sad news this morning," said Mario Lefebvre, of the board's centre of municipal studies, at a conference Thursday.

"This is a good news story, but it's the challenge that comes with economic growth."

There are jobs to be had in the booming city, but not enough people to fill them. Saskatoon will need even more than the historic number of newcomers coming to the city to keep up, he said.

A battle between employers for the workers who are here leads to wage increases - and while that's "music to the ears of workers," it creates inflation.

For example, if the cost of housing rises out of step with the country - or even other parts of the province - people won't be able to sell their homes and buy one here.

"The biggest worry to me is making sure it's still going to be affordable for anyone in Canada to come and enjoy the boom times in Saskatoon."

Aside from that concern, "it's hard to find anything more positive that could happen," he said.

The small city's worth of people added to Saskatoon over the past decade has caused a host of industries outside natural resources to flourish, he said.

If newcomers can arrive faster, there will be another three to four per cent population growth next year, enough to fill jobs and boost economic growth.

Last year, the province's GDP grew 1.9 per cent - about the same as the national average but less than Alberta (3.8 per cent) and Manitoba (2.6 per cent).

In that year, a slowdown in China and a standstill in the U.S. led to a decreased demand for commodities.

But those Statistics Canada figures are already out of date, as Lefebvre predicts a 3.5 per cent increase this year and continuing next year.

The American economy - importantly, the private sector - is recovering and China's growth remains relatively strong.

And potash is a stable anchor for the Saskatchewan economy, he said.

There will always be cycles, "but the bottom line is, potash is related to food and as far as I know nobody is planning to stop eating."

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