Statistics Canada data shows the economic region spanning western Alberta and containing the Grande Prairie area had an unemployment rate of 12.1 per cent, down from 14.4 per cent in July. Minister of Jobs, Economy, and Innovation Doug Schweitzer says he is optimistic about the future of the region’s economy, post COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s encouraging whenever you see people getting employed again, [but] we still have a long long way to go as a province to get everyone back to work,” says Schweitzer. “The businesses that are out there, they’re operating in the middle of a pandemic, the people that are going back into the workforce, they’re doing it responsibly and that’s why we’ve been able to do this as a province.”

The year over year stats, however, present a grim reminder of the lasting impacts as the pandemic continues. In August 2019, unemployment in the region was at 5.4 per cent.

Schweitzer argues some of the key targets for restarting the economy, including reopening schools and not overloading the healthcare system, have already been reached. The next step is to continue prioritizing the health of the workforce.

“We can only operate if people are healthy so we have to do those responsible things: working together, being as understanding as humanly possible when this comes up, and making sure that people understand [to] keep their distance, wash their hands; it’s the basic fundamentals that we all learned when we were kids. The best thing we can do to keep our economy going and keep people employed is to make sure we take those responsible health steps.”

Schweitzer regards the current stage of reopening in the province as a sort of in-between from stage two, to stage three. Many of the stage three elements, he says, are going to be a challenge to achieve until there’s greater clarity on when a vaccine for COVID-19 will be accessible to the public.

“Until we get to that point in time we need to make significantly more progress on the health care file. We’re making sure we work with our healthcare professionals to make sure that we understand the next step, [and] what else we can open up.”

Province-wide, unemployment rates are currently hovering around 10.5 per cent on average. Schweitzer adds the government will be making several announcements “in the coming weeks,” that will set the stage for Alberta’s recovery to pre-COVID employment numbers.