Calgary Herald

Central Canada behind March jobs boom

- JOHN MORRISSY

The West may still be best, but Canada’s blowout job growth last month was primarily a story of strength in Central Canada.

A resurgent Ontario and Quebec combined to create 82,500 jobs in March, even higher than the national net total of 82,300, which was brought lower by job losses in Atlantic Canada.

And while Alberta and B.C. still lead the country in employment gains over the past 12 months, Ontario comes in a surprising third place, said BMO Capital Markets deputy chief economist Douglas Porter.

“It certainly flies in the face of all the gloom and doom about the Ontario economy these days.”

In March alone, Ontario — home along with Quebec to the country’s manufactur­ing heartland — led all national job creation, posting gains of 46,100 to the employment rolls, Statistics Canada said in its monthly labour force report Thursday.

That drove Ontario’s unemployme­nt rate down 0.2 percentage points to 7.4 per cent, the lowest level in three years, And like the national job gains, Ontario’s were concentrat­ed in full-time jobs — whose higher wages and secure employment bolster the economy through stronger and sustained consumer spending power.

Equally for Quebec, where purported job losses of recent months had become a source of debate and acrimony, March came in like a lion, adding 36,400 jobs, which pushed the unemployme­nt rate down a startling 0.5 percentage points, to 7.9 per cent.

Thursday’s report, which showed the national unemployme­nt rate fell to 7.2 per cent from 7.4 per cent in February and heralded the greatest monthly job creation since September 2008, was widely seen as a positive sign for the economy.

To a large extent though, the March surge in Canada was simply a result of job statistics aligning themselves with economic reality, said Craig Alexander, chief economist at Tdeconomic­s.

With the economy growing at about two per cent, it should have been creating about 20,000 to 25,000 jobs a month, Alexander said. So considerin­g there was no reported job creation in January and February, the March data — averaged over three months — shows a gain in line with growth of 27,000.

“Idon’t think the labour market was at all as weak as it was being depicted,” said Alexander.

“These numbers are just playing catch-up.”

Many economists cautioned that last month’s advance was unlikely to be repeated in the months ahead.

More likely, the economy will continue to post modest job gains going ahead, as the strengthen­ing private sector takes the baton from a weakening public sector, said Alexander.

Clearly, Alexander said, March gains of 32,000 in health care and social assistance, and 20,900 in the public sector, won’t be repeated in the months ahead, given the fiscal austerity contained in recent federal and provincial budgets and Ottawa’s aim to lay off 19,200 civil servants over the next three years.

But as BMO’S Porter points out, the recent data shows the transition to private sector gathering steam.

Manufactur­ing added 11,800 jobs during the month, spurred on by stellar vehicle sales south of the border and production gains in southern Ontario’s auto sector.

It certainly flies in the face of all the gloom and doom about the Ontario economy these days DOUGLAS PORTER, BMO CAPITAL MARKETS

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