OTTAWA — Employment growth in Canada came to a virtual standstill in April — and left Alberta’s struggling energy-dependent labour market looking somewhat flat, as well, following an unsustainable, super-sized job jump the previous month.
While the country lost 2,100 positions overall in April, that still hardly moved the dial — given Statistics Canada’s margin for error is nearly 30,000 — and comes after a 40,600 gain in March.
As a result, last month’s reading from the federal data agency saw the unemployment rate remain at 7.1 per cent. Economists had predicted a one-decimal-point increase in joblessness in Friday’s report, along with a meagre hiring increase of about 1,000.
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“We had this very unusual situation where Alberta led the way in the prior month,” said Douglas Porter, chief economist at BMO Capital Markets.
“Just as soon as we saw those 19,000 jobs added in March, they were completely reversed in April — leaving the province with a 1.6 per cent drop in employment over the past year,” Porter said.
“That, frankly, lines up much better with everything else that we’ve seen and heard about Alberta.”
The province’s loss of 20,800 jobs in April, and the increase in the unemployment rate to 7.2 per cent from 7.1 per cent, have been driven by the global collapse in oil prices — a situation that is not likely to change significantly this year.
Now, Alberta is facing a new challenge to growth as a wildfire that in Fort McMurray spreads to other oil-producing regions.
“It’s just more pain for the underlying (Alberta) economy, at least short-term,” Porter said.
“Since it’s still a moving situation, it’s tough to know. I think it’s too early to make a call on what it means for employment.”
Meanwhile, Saskatchewan — another resources-dependent province — followed a similar mild employment pattern as much of the country in April. Still, its jobless level moved up to 6.3 per cent from 6.2 per cent.
Other provinces — Ontario, British Columbia, New Brunswick, and Newfoundland and Labrador — had limited job-market movements last month.
Outside of the energy sector, Statistics Canada reported fewer people working in the still-struggling manufacturing sector — losing 16,500 jobs in April.
Other sector declines came in building activity and agriculture. “These losses were offset by gains in wholesale and retail trade, as well as accommodation and food services,” the agency said.
Meanwhile, a new survey released Friday by the Chartered Professional Accountants of Canada showed about 35 per cent of top executives still expect job growth in their companies. That’s up from 31 per cent in the previous quarter.
Thirty-six per cent of the respondents anticipated no change, while 27 per cent anticipated a decline and the others did not know.