Squamish EI claims increase by 10 per cent 

The number of people seeking Employment Insurance (EI) has increased by 10 per cent in Squamish this year compared to the last, but it's what was expected in a post-Olympics lull, says Denise Jimmo, the Director of Human Resources and Employment at Training Innovations, an organization that offers career development services in the Sea to Sky region.

"This isn't surprising. During the Olympics, there was a boom in the region and an influx of temporary workers. After the Olympics, this was expected and it has happened in North Vancouver and Lower Mainland communities, too," Jimmo said.

Jimmo, whose organization helps workers find employment in the region, said the recession took a heavy toll on the job market and things haven't really improved since. The Olympics, she said, were merely a "blip" in the region's employment history, giving a much-needed injection of jobs to the corridor.

"It's been tough for the last two years and the Olympics came and went, but economically, things are still quite challenging," she said.

The most recent figures released by Statistics Canada show EI claims increased in Squamish by 10.5 per cent, with 420 people receiving EI this year compared to 380 in 2009. Kitimat was the only other B.C. community that registered an increase of 10 per cent, while EI claims dropped in other communities, although the number remained roughly the same in Prince George.

According to Statistics Canada, since July, the number of claims has gone up in most of the country. The fastest rates of increase from March to July occurred in Ontario, Manitoba, Alberta, and B.C., where the numbers increased by as much as nine per cent.

As for Squamish, Jimmo said it's a market that is in a transition and can't be compared to other communities in British Columbia.

"It's a unique market and it's in a transitional phase. The highway has just been completed and I think the District of Squamish has done some good work in bringing employment to Squamish," she said.

There has also been an increase in the number for people looking to establish their own business. Community Futures Foundation Howe Sound (CFFHS), a non-profit that provides loans to budding entrepreneurs, has seen a rush of applicants.

"These last three years have been the busiest in the past 20 years," said Jeff Dawson, general manager of the CFFHS in Squamish. "Frankly, it's during the tough times that you notice a real entrepreneurship spirit."

Dawson said the organization approves 30 loans a year on average for those who are on EI and want to start their own small business. This year, he said, the number stood at 60 - the maximum number the organization could approve, according to provincial legislations.

"If there was no restriction, I can tell you the number might have been 80 instead of 60," he said.

Mayor Greg Gardner said the jump in EI claims was expected, but added that the District of Squamish was trying hard to create employment in Squamish.

"There is reduction in commercial property taxes for the past two years, increased designation of employment lands in the OCP, creation of the waterfront plan including plans for over 2,000 jobs on the SODC land alone," he said.

Empowering and funding the Tourism Squamish Society, increasing efficiencies at the District of Squamish, a successful Live at Squamish event, and creating the commercial development downtown were also some of the efforts he listed.

According to Statistics Canada, there was little change in the country's employment rate in September 2010, as full-time gains were offset by part-time losses. The unemployment rate was down 0.1 percentage points to 8 per cent, as fewer people, particularly youth, participated in the labour market.

However, the silver lining is that since 2009, overall employment has risen by more than two per cent.



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