Ottawa-Gatineau unemployment sinks to 5.1% as feds keep hiring


The swelling ranks of public servants in Ottawa-Gatineau pushed the region’s unemployment rate down for the fourth straight month to reach its lowest level in more than seven years, according to Statistics Canada figures released Friday.

Area employers collectively added 1,200 net new jobs in March, pushing the Ottawa-Gatineau unemployment rate to 5.1 per cent, down from 5.3 per cent a month earlier.

The federal government’s ongoing hiring binge was the primary factor. The region’s largest employer expanded its local headcount for the eighth straight month and continued to set new employment records in the National Capital Region.

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There are now 152,900 people in Ottawa-Gatineau working for the federal government. That’s up 20 per cent, or 25,400 people, since last July.

Ottawa’s closely watched tech sector, meanwhile, halted five straight months of employment declines and added 1,100 jobs. The information and communications technology industry now employs 39,900 in Ottawa and an additional 5,300 in Gatineau.

Nationally, Canada’s labour market pumped out another 19,400 net jobs last month – and the vast majority of the new work was full-time.
However, Statistics Canada’s job survey Friday also showed the bulk of those new positions were created in the more precarious category of self-employment, which can include people working for a family business without pay.

The report found that 95 per cent of all new jobs created last month were full-time. But it also found that 95 per cent of all new jobs were self-employed positions.

The agency says the country’s unemployment rate crept up in March to 6.7 per cent from 6.6 per cent because more people were looking for work.

The increase in the number of jobs suggests the country’s upward trend continued for a fourth consecutive month. But the gains in February and March were low enough that the agency deems them statistically insignificant.

Compared with a year earlier, the categories of full-time and part-time work have each increased 1.5 per cent.

“Overall, this is just yet another piece of evidence that the economy has broken out of its two-year lull.”

“Overall, this is just yet another piece of evidence that the economy has broken out of its two-year lull, a breakout that appears to have started around the middle of 2016,” BMO chief economist Douglas Porter said in a note to clients.

“Even so, we suspect that the Bank of Canada will continue to accentuate the downside risks in next week’s monetary policy report, and one mixed jobs report is not going to make a dent in their view.”

The country lost 2,400 positions in the services sector last month, but added 21,800 factory jobs thanks to the biggest month-to-month surge in manufacturing work since 2002.

The manufacturing sector added 24,400 positions – mostly in Ontario and to a lesser degree in Alberta – to climb back up to the same level it was 12 months earlier.

Still, compared with its peak in the early 2000s, the manufacturing sector has about 630,000 fewer jobs, a drop of 27 per cent, Statistics Canada said.

Alberta easily saw the biggest overall job boost among provinces, adding 20,700 full-time jobs last month. At the other end of the spectrum, Quebec shed 17,800 full-time positions.

The number of private-sector jobs rose 13,700 between February and March, while public-sector positions dropped by 12,700.

Economists had expected job gains of 5,000 last month and for the unemployment rate to increase to 6.7 per cent, according to Thomson Reuters.

– With reporting by the Canadian Press

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