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Northern Ontario still struggles with job growth, says Fraser Institute

Report says this region, rural Ontario hard-pressed to replace jobs lost during 2008-09 recession
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More than a decade after the global financial crisis of 2008-09, Ontario's northern and rural areas are still struggling to regain the jobs that were lost, according to a Fraser Institute report.

Ben Eisen and Steve Lafleur, two researchers have kept a running tab over the years on how different parts of Ontario have fared since the 2008/09 recession. In a number of studies, they've determined that the economic recovery has been uneven across the province.

Their latest study, Uneven Job Creation in Ontario’s Urban Centres from 2008 to 2019,  determine that Job creation rates in the Toronto and Ottawa area exceed the national average, while most other cities, smaller towns and rural areas outside these larger centres have experienced little or no job growth since the recession. 

Northern Ontario's two largest cities, Sudbury and Thunder Bay, saw little job creation from 2008 and 2019, according to the report.

Greater Sudbury saw 3.3 percent net job creation during this timeframe. Employment fell by 1 percent in Thunder Bay.

The geographically scattered smaller communities in Northern and rural Ontario continue to struggle the most. 

These centres, collectively making up more than 2 million people in 2019 - 17.3 percent of the province’s population - had negative job creation, falling by 9.7 percent between 2008 and 2019.

But during this same period, the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) and Ottawa experienced higher rates of job creation - 21.7 per cent and 16.1 per cent, respectively - better than the national average of 11.9 per cent.

The job creation story among southwestern Ontario cities with populations of 100,000 or more is a largely mixed bag.

Most cities close to the GTA, like Guelph, Brantford, and Kitchener-Waterloo, have seen job creation rates above the national average since 2008. But St. Catharines-Niagara recorded barely any employment growth between 2008 and 2019 at just 0.6 percent.

Employment growth in Windsor increased by 10.1 percent, below the national average, while employment in London increased by just 1.2 per cent. 

The two researchers don't delve into the various economic conditions in each region but said population change and employment opportunities are closely linked. People tend to move from place to another to accept employment and the new arrival’s job is recorded in the region’s job creation statistics.

“Given the sheer size of the Greater Toronto Area and surrounding communities, it is easy to miss the economic challenges faced by many other parts of Ontario when looking at province-wide economic statistics,” said Eisen, senior fellow at the public policy think-tank.

“Ontario is by far Canada’s most populous province, with regions outside of the GTA that are larger than some provinces. Southwest Ontario, for example, is as populous as the entire Atlantic region.

“The economic challenges in Ontario outside the GTA and Ottawa should be considered an issue of national importance,” said Eisen.