Ottawa-Gatineau sheds 4,100 jobs in November, bucking national trend

Downtown Ottawa offices
Downtown Ottawa offices

Ottawa-Gatineau’s unemployment rate fell to its lowest level since before the pandemic last month despite a net loss of more than 4,000 jobs as the labour force continued to shrink.

The region’s jobless rate dropped to 4.4 per cent in November, Statistics Canada said Friday, down from 5.1 per cent in October and its lowest mark since February 2020.

But unlike the Canadian economy as a whole – which churned out more than 150,000 new jobs last month – Ottawa-Gatineau continued a recent slide that’s seen it shed more than 28,000 jobs since July.

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Total employment in the region fell by a net 4,100 positions in November to 753,600, its lowest level since February. 

But the number of people actively seeking work also dropped significantly last month, driving down the jobless rate. 

Ottawa-Gatineau’s overall labour force numbered 788,200 in November, down 10,000 from a month earlier. It marked the fourth consecutive month the city’s labour force has declined.

Government workforce shrinks

Sectors that suffered big losses in November included public administration, which shed a net 3,200 positions, as well as real estate (down 2,300) and professional services (down 2,000).

Gainers included health care, which added a net 3,500 jobs, and educational services (up a net 1,200). The retail sector grew by a net 200 positions as the industry headed into its busiest sales month, while the hard-hit accommodations and food sector was down a net 800 jobs.

Another key driver of the local economy, the tech sector, added a modest 400 positions, its fourth consecutive month of gains.

Ottawa-Gatineau’s jobs picture contrasted sharply with the national trend last month.

Statistics Canada says the Canadian economy added 154,000 jobs in November as the labour market showed more signs it’s returning to pre-pandemic levels.

The unemployment rate fell to six per cent last month compared with 6.7 per cent in October. That brought the headline rate to within 0.3 percentage points of the 5.7 per cent recorded in February 2020 just before the pandemic struck.

Statistics Canada says the unemployment rate would have been 7.8 per cent in November had it included Canadians who wanted to work but didn’t search for a job, down from 8.7 per cent in October.

The agency also says that the number of long-term unemployed fell by 62,000, marking the first monthly drop since August. StatsCan says the decline in long-term unemployed was particularly sharp for Canadians who had been out of work for a year or more.

Statistics Canada also says that total hours worked returned to pre-pandemic levels for the first time in November, following a stretch where some workers had seen their hours cut.

Ontario sees gains

Six provinces – Ontario, Quebec, Alberta, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island – saw gains, with few changes for the remaining four. The agency notes that the monthly jobs survey took place just before severe flooding struck British Columbia.

With unemployment declining and job vacancies ticking upwards, the statistics office says signs point to new or worsening labour shortages or skill mismatches.

Leah Nord, senior director of workforce strategies for the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, says the country is no better off today than pre-pandemic because there is still no meaningful way to connect unemployed workers with available jobs.

“Now clear of the impacts of support programs, our labour market’s structural problem is laid bare: an entrenched misalignment between the skills employers are looking for and job seekers are offering,” she says, warning that labour market pains are likely to worsen through early next year.

– With additional reporting from the Canadian Press

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