Canada’s economy blew past expectations in February, adding more than a quarter million new jobs as the country edges back towards pre-pandemic employment levels.
The 259,000 new jobs in February — roughly equivalent to the population of Saskatoon, SK or Windsor, ON — nearly wiped out the 266,000 jobs lost over the previous two months, as various pandemic-related lockdowns and restrictions from December and January lifted across much of the country.
The national unemployment rate has now fallen 1.2 percentage points to 8.2%, the lowest rate since March 2020, a month that will long in the collective consciousness as the month when everything changed.
Canada still has some way to go to get back to those early 2020 levels. There are still around 600,000 fewer people working in Canada compared to a year ago, plus an additional 406,000 more people working less than half of their usual hours. That’s around a million people — roughly equivalent to the population of Ottawa, Canada’s capital — who either remain out of work or who are still working fewer hours than before the pandemic. Moreover, unemployment rates below 6%, a consistent feature of the economy in the couple of years before the pandemic, remain a distant goal.
Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau last week acknowledged that “there are still far too many people for whom things continue to be really tough,” adding: “if that’s you, know that you’re not alone in this crisis. We’re here to help get through it and get back on your feet.” The help the PM refers to includes a range of income support programs that have existed in some form for a year now.
A surge in Canadian jobs
Canada’s economic resilience to the second wave of the pandemic comes as the country exits its notoriously frosty winter on an upward trajectory with its COVID-19 vaccination efforts.
As more Canadians receive one of the approved vaccines and the number of cases, hospitalisations, and deaths decrease, governments at provincial and municipal levels have lifted many economic restrictions that had been in place since around November of last year. This allowed for the re-opening of many so-called non-essential businesses, cultural and recreational facilities, and some in-person dining. However, capacity limits and other public health requirements, which varied across jurisdictions, remain in place.
It hasn’t all been plain sailing. While restrictions were eased to varying degrees in parts of Quebec, Alberta, and Ontario, Newfoundland re-introduced a lockdown in mid-February, requiring the widespread closure of many businesses and services.
The bulk of newly-added jobs in Canada last month were in part-time work (+171,000), though 88,000 full-timers were also added to payrolls nationwide. Canada’s private sector is gaining confidence and offering more positions; February’s gains included an increase of 226,000 jobs (+1.9%) among private-sector employees, offsetting a similarly sized decline in January, as employment in the retail trade, and accommodation and food services industries recovered in response to the easing of public health restrictions in many jurisdictions.
It also looks like some workers who had been looking for work for a long time are back at work. The number of long-term unemployed — people who had been looking for work or been on temporary layoff for 27 weeks or more — fell by 49,000 (-9.7%) in February from a record high of 512,000 in January.
However, February employment increases were concentrated in jobs paying $17.50 per hour or less, reflecting monthly growth in industries with a high proportion of low-paying jobs.
The number of people working in retail trade increased by 122,000 (+6.1%) in February as restrictions on non-essential stores were lifted in many regions.
Employment in the accommodation and food services industry rose by 65,000 (+7.8%), driven primarily by Ontario and Alberta.
Employment gains in February were concentrated in Quebec (+113,000; +2.7%) and Ontario (+100,000; +1.4%), reflecting a rebound in industries — particularly retail trade and accommodation and food services — where public health measures were strengthened in December and then eased in February.
Employment also increased in British Columbia, Alberta and Manitoba.
After falling steadily from September 2020 to January 2021, the number of people working in the information, culture, and recreation industry was little changed in February.
Urban unemployment is down
Canada’s three largest cities are all enjoying an economic rebound following a tough few months.
Toronto’s unemployment rate now stands at 10.4% (down from 11.8% in January); Montreal is posting an impressive unemployment rate of 7.4% (down from 9.5% in January); Vancouver’s unemployment rate is currently 7.7% (down from 8.9% in January).
Governments, employers, and workers alike are hopeful that more restrictions can be eased over the coming weeks in months, bringing further drops in unemployment.
Recent and more established immigrants, as well as those hoping to move to Canada in 2021 or 2022, have real hope that they can ride the wave of economic growth in Canada when that growth gains momentum. In fact, immigrants are among the more active stimulants of that growth, with studies showing that immigrants start businesses that employ other workers at a higher rate than their Canadian-born counterparts. Immigrants to Canada don’t take jobs from Canadians — they create jobs for Canadians.
One such immigrant entrepreneur and employer is Ruairi Spillane, Managing Director of Outpost Recruitment, an agency specialising in engineering and construction.
“Canada is set for an infrastructure construction boom, with plenty of big projects at various stages in healthcare, transportation, rail, and waterworks. There’s a huge amount of work to be done, and the companies awarded these projects are on the lookout for talent locally and internationally.
“There are big opportunities for immigrants to Canada across many sectors, including construction.“
Throughout the pandemic, Outpost has remained nimble and candidate-focused, able to find suitable roles for motivated candidates. The agency works with general contractors, subcontractors, developers, and consultants who are hiring across senior management, operations, project management, site, design, quality, and commercial personnel.
Outpost Recruitment is actively looking for candidates for projects across Canada. View the latest job postings here.