OTTAWA — Canada’s unemployment rate climbed to 6.8 per cent in February as the labour market in energy-rich Alberta showed its first significant decline since the global oil slump, Statistics Canada said Friday.
The agency’s latest labour-market survey found the country’s jobless rate crept up from 6.6 per cent the previous month — even though it only registered a month-to-month net loss of 1,000 jobs.
The labour force grew by 49,200 people last month, but so did the number of unemployed people — by 50,200 people.
The unemployment rate came in higher than the 6.7 per cent consensus projection of economists, who also predicted a net loss of 5,000 jobs, according to Thomson Reuters.
Many economists had been expecting to see the negative effects of the plunge in oil prices surface in the February data.
Alberta, the heart of Canada’s oil sector, suffered the biggest blow of any province on the job front.
The province lost 14,000 net jobs last month and saw its unemployment rate surge by 0.8 percentage points to 5.3 per cent — its highest level since September 2011.
The agency said Alberta’s natural resources sector alone shed 7,000 net positions — most of them in support activities for mining, oil and gas. The industry shed 16,900 positions overall from coast to coast.
The natural resources industry in neighbouring British Columbia also failed to emerge unscathed in February, losing 7,200 net jobs. B.C.’s unemployment rate rose to 6.0 per cent from 5.6 per cent.
“The issue going forward is will sectors like manufacturing be more effective in terms of tempering this weakness in natural resources?” RBC assistant chief economist Paul Ferley said after the release of the labour force survey.
Looking at the February jobs data, the reading for the manufacturing sector was worse than expected, Ferley said.
The report registered a net loss of 19,900 jobs in manufacturing, with most of those losses coming in Alberta and Ontario.
Ferley expects the industry to add jobs in the coming months thanks to benefits provided by lower oil prices.
He said the survey contained evidence this shift could already be underway in manufacturing-heavy provinces like Ontario and Quebec, where the unemployment rates held steady last month at 6.9 per cent and 7.4 per cent respectively. Ontario added 13,800 net jobs last month and Quebec saw a net gain of 16,800.
In Manitoba, meanwhile, the jobless rate fell to 5.6 per cent from 6.0 per cent.
BMO senior economist Robert Kavcic said in a note to clients that since unemployment rates in Alberta and Saskatchewan registered above five per cent, they could soon be surpassed by Manitoba and B.C. for the lowest levels in the country.
“Indeed, things got more interesting at the regional level in February, with cracks from the slide in oil prices now starting to clearly emerge,” Kavcic wrote.
The report also showed youth unemployment shot up to 13.3 per cent in February from 12.8 per cent the month before, while the jobless rate for men 25 years and older increased to 6.2 per cent from 5.8 per cent.
The unemployment rate for women 25 years and older held steady at 5.2 per cent.
The economy also saw a net loss of 29,000 jobs in the private sector, while it registered a net gain of 24,300 jobs in public-sector positions.
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