Barrie’s Jobs Paradox

The fourth highest employment rate in Ontario.  3,400 more jobs created in 2011, nearly twice as many as in all of 2010.  More than 500 new industrial jobs announced by companies in the past 6 months.  1,300 new jobs coming at an expanding  hospital, cancer care centre, and community college.  Industrial building permits up by 63% so far in 2011, compared to all of 2010.  Crime down by 11% from last year. 

Does this sound like the city with the highest unemployment rate in Canada in October?  No – but it is.  Our fair city of Barrie. 

There is a huge amount of attention paid to the unemployment rate.   When it rises, it is a cause for big concern.  And many people in Barrie right now are shocked by how high our rate is – in fact, our unemployment rate has fluctuated between 8% and 12% for nearly three years now, higher than the Provincial average, and at times, higher than any other city in Ontario. 

The jobs paradox in Barrie is this:  we have a higher proportion of our population working than almost any other city, and yet we still have a high unemployment rate.  This is partly the result of being the youngest city in the country.  We are almost entirely unique among Canadian cities in that three-quarters of our population over the age of 15 are in the workforce (only one-quarter are retired or otherwise not working).  In almost all other cities, it’s two-thirds of the population that are in the workforce, and one-third that are retired or not in the workforce.

This is part of the reason we are such a strong, family-oriented community.  But the challenge of having 75% of the adult population working, instead of 65% as with most cities, is we need that many more jobs for our unemployment rate to drop.  The bar is that much higher for us in Barrie. 

So – here’s a rate that gets no attention:  the employment rate.  That’s the percentage of the adult population that actually have a job.  Barrie’s rate in October was 64.9%.  That’s good for fourth place in all of Ontario, behind only Ottawa, Kitchener-Waterloo, and Guelph (all of them demographically young cities as well).  And yet, with such a large proportion of the adult population in the workforce, even this high employment rate leaves us with that many more people without jobs.

None of this is intended to try to detract or distract from the seriousness of having a high unemployment rate.  Every one of the people that make up that unemployment statistic are people struggling to find a job, trying to get through tough times, and in many cases support families who depend on them.  People are not statistics.  Jobs have to be priority #1 for our community and for all levels of government.

But we need to recognize that part of what makes Barrie unique – our young population, our changing economy, our rapid growth, creates a bigger challenge for employment in Barrie than in most cities.   There are that many more people competing for jobs.  Ontario’s economy has struggled in the recession, and we are not alone in having a high unemployment rate.  But what makes us unique as a City is also, right now, driving up our unemployment rate.

I will do everything I can – as will your City Council – to grow the number of jobs in Barrie.  We will need lots of help, and we must remember that it’s the private sector that creates the most jobs, not the public sector, and certainly not politicians!   But together with Ottawa and Queen’s Park, we can create a stronger climate for investment, and provide the education, infrastructure, and cost climate to support business growth and expansion.  The top priority for government in Barrie in 2012 can and must be jobs.

About jefflehman
Jeff Lehman is the 46th Mayor of the City of Barrie. The Ward 2 Councillor for the City of Barrie from 2006 to 2010, he was the Chairman of the Finance Committee of Council, chaired the City’s Growth Management Working Group, and created the Historic Neighbourhoods project, a new initiative to protect and revitalize Barrie’s oldest neighbourhoods. Jeff has lived in Barrie for most of his life, having grown up in Allandale and attended Barrie Central Collegiate. Jeff holds a B.A. from Queen’s University, and a Master’s Degree with first class honours from the UK’s prestigious London School of Economics. He was hired to teach at the LSE following his graduation, and lived and worked in London for two years as an academic. Since that time, as an economist, he has worked with cities across Canada to manage redevelopment and invest in their urban infrastructure. In 2005, he established the Growing By Degrees Task Force to assist in expanding university education opportunities in Barrie, and has volunteered his time with many organizations in the City. Jeff lives near Downtown Barrie with his wife, Jennifer, a part-time professor of political science, and their young daughter Cassie, who is already smarter than her father.


7 Responses to “Barrie’s Jobs Paradox”
  1. Nicole says:

    Please try to ensure that the focus is on GOOD jobs coming to Barrie…not just retail jobs. As someone mentioned in a Letter to the Editor in the Barrie Advance yesterday, the problem is that Barrie has allowed thousands of new homes to be built without thinking of where and how the people moving to these homes would be employed. And working at all those gigantic chain-stores that have also recently been allowed to proliferate in the south end is not a viable employment option for most of these people either. We need more good jobs in Barrie, and we need them now.

  2. Sarah-Jane VandenBerg says:

    Mr. Lehman, my first introduction to you was through colleagues of mine who went to the HRPAO conference in Barrie recently and heard you speak. They came back totally impressed with both the content of your presentation and your presentation ability. Then, I heard or read about you attending an event to attract employers to Barrie. Now, I have read this blog which is intriguing, interesting and accessible, which means that the content is understandable. Thank you for your clarity and enthusiasm!

  3. Robert Viera says:

    On September 6, 2008, Barrie’s Member of Parliament announced that Barrie would be getting a new Canada Revenue Agency office, and 300 new federal government jobs by September of 2009.

    According to Statistics Canada (, the number of people employed by the federal government in Barrie actually went down from 214 to 204 between September, 2008 and September, 2010, the most recent year for which figures are available. (2011 figures are due out next week).

    Barrie has the second lowest rate of employment by the federal government (0.2%) among the 33 cities in the Statistics Canada survey.

  4. I agree with Nicole’s comment that the quality of jobs is also important.

    Because of the lack of more professional positions, I have had to apply to the same posts as my teenage daughter – a perfect example of what you described in your article of having a large young working population. Applying for such jobs, I don’t use many of my accumulated skills and experience and therefore may not be earning my potential or fully enjoying the work. Also, I suspect I am often not considered for these positions because of being over-qualified.

    As you say, politicians alone can’t create more jobs, but the City could encourage further new businesses. Many unemployed like myself with great skills and support from the City could maybe create their own jobs and some for others, diversifying the type of employment here in Barrie.

  5. Chacka says:

    As Nichole has already has stated, we need GOOD jobs. Napoleon Has actually fired over 200 people and rehired temps. This has enabled our local industry to get out of paying a proper living wage while and not provide any kind of benefits.

    With this and knowing the up and coming meeting at town hall, I would like to ask you, Jeff, where do you think we can get any money at all to pay for your tax increases? Today we are at the full maximum when it comes to taxes and even with those increases we have witnessed less services such as roads that need to be properly serviced. I have witnesses continued misspending such as the fire hall and a new police station. A request unreasonable when the Barrie Police Service has three officers charged under the police service act, repetitively. With the employment figures and hard data proving we are in trouble no matter how you try to spin it. Ignoring the problem is not going to make it go away. With very high energy costs I do ask why we haven’t cut any red tape and reversed some of the zoning that was done only out of politics so that real investment can come our way. Or would make energy companies set up here to alleviate those costs while helping to grow our economy?

  6. Smithg138 says:

    Very nice! edffbeegdb

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