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OPINION: More must be done to retain Islanders already here

Jobs.
Jobs. - 123RF Stock Photo

Guest opinion by Trish Altass

In his guest opinion in the Guardian on Aug. 15, 2018, Minister Gallant states that numbers tell the story, highlighting that “In the last two years, 4,200 new full-time jobs have been created.” While this is certainly a good news story, it’s only a part of it. It doesn’t tell us how many of these jobs are permanent full year positions, how many are minimum wage, or how many jobs have been lost, particularly in rural areas. Employment increases in bioscience and aerospace will do little for the 40 people in O’Leary who recently lost their jobs at the Cavendish plant – a loss that will no doubt have significant impacts for the local community.

With recent education grants primarily geared toward students entering post-secondary education for the first time out of high school, what opportunities and supports are we providing to help Islanders who have been displaced by our evolving labour market find new opportunities and prosper?

The Minister also boasted that more Islanders are engaging in paid work than ever before with “the total number of employed Islanders reached 76,200 and the number of Islanders working full-time reached 63,700.” However, what he fails to highlight is that our population is also at its highest ever, while overall labour market participation rates have increased only slightly from 66.0 to 67.1 since the previous year. P.E.I.’s population continues to grow largely due to immigration, so if we weren’t seeing a corresponding increase in total employment numbers, that would indicate a serious problem indeed. In terms of keeping Islanders at home, we are struggling. In fact, 2017 saw the highest outmigration numbers since 2011 with 3,704 people leaving P.E.I. for other provinces (The Guardian June 24, 2018).

As our economy continues to expand in targeted skilled areas, we must also increase the focus on encouraging new rurally based small businesses to start and existing local businesses to continue to succeed and expand – businesses that keep our money on Island and allow Islanders to work and live in their home communities. Putting all our employment eggs into a few select baskets inevitably leaves many people without and falls short of meeting the employment needs of rural communities. While job growth in certain skilled sectors may present opportunities for some Islanders to return home, we must do more to retain the Islanders who are already here and provide diverse opportunities for everyone to thrive.

Trish Altass is the Green Party of P.E.I.'s Shadow Critic for Workforce and Advanced Learning and will be the candidate for the Green Party of P.E.I. in District 23 Tyne Valley-Sherbrooke.

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