July 6, 2016 / 9:07 PM / 4 years ago

Canada still not collecting jobs data in city hit by wildfire

TORONTO (Reuters) - Statistics Canada has not collected jobs data for Fort McMurray since the Alberta city was engulfed by wildfire in May, the federal statistics agency said, and it has not yet decided when the country’s key employment survey will resume there.

FILE PHOTO - A crew member cleans the inside of the Family Foods grocery store after clearing all the expired food off the shelves as thousands of evacuees who fled a massive wildfire begin to trickle back to their homes in Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada on June 2, 2016. REUTERS/Topher Seguin/File Photo

Some 90,000 people were evacuated from Fort McMurray and the surrounding area in early May as an out-of-control forest fire burned into the heart of Canada’s oil sands region. Re-entry began in early June. At its height, the fire shut down about half of oil sands production.

The survey is one of Canada’s most closely watched economic indicators, and economists would usually look to it to measure the fallout of events like the wildfire. With no data collection in Fort McMurray, the June report that is due out on Friday will not fully reflect the impact of the fire.

“We don’t want to impose on people - they are going through very hard times,” said Christel Le Petit, the Statistics Canada assistant director responsible for the survey. “Some could have maybe responded, but we didn’t want to ask.”

When Statistics Canada released May jobs and unemployment data last month, the agency said it had not collected data for Wood Buffalo, the area that includes Fort McMurray. The agency said this week its Labour Force Survey had still not resumed in Wood Buffalo.

The decision to resume will be made with local and provincial governments, Statistics Canada said. An Alberta government spokeswoman said the province had no concerns with resuming in July.

Le Petit said it was the first time the survey had been suspended in a disaster-struck area in the 10 years she had worked on it.

“We’ve had some small impact on collections in the past, but we were able to get to some of the people. This is really unique,” she said.

To partially correct for the missing data, Statistics Canada substituted results from similar households in surrounding areas. Since some oil sands workers live outside Fort McMurray, the survey likely captured some of the impact of the fire.

Even so, any impact on the provincial and national unemployment rates would be small, given that Fort McMurray is home to just 2 percent of Alberta’s population.

Editing by Peter Cooney

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