Ottawa-Gatineau employers trim payrolls for fourth straight month

Unemployment rate steady at 5.8% as labour force contracts
Ottawa

Ottawa-Gatineau employers bucked a national trend last month as the number of people working in the National Capital Region fell to its lowest level since September 2016, Statistics Canada said Friday.

October marked the fourth straight monthly employment contraction in Ottawa-Gatineau. Despite last month’s decline of 1,200 jobs, a drop in the number of people in the local labour force kept the area’s unemployment steady at 5.8 per cent.

One of the major reasons for the National Capital Region’s fluctuating employment picture is the large swing in the number of people reporting they work for the federal government.

Starting in the summer of 2016, the local federal workforce quickly shot up from 127,500 in July of that year to a peak of 153,800 this past May.

Since then, the number of government workers has plummeted to 138,300, including a decline of 4,600 positions in October, according to Statistics Canada.

The other major culprit behind last month’s drop is Ottawa’s wholesale and retail sector, which also shed 4,600 jobs.

The region’s tech sector lost 300 jobs to sit at 47,800 positions.

National jobs market

Nationally, the Canadian economy continued to churn out more jobs in October even amid forecasts that economic growth is slowing in the second half of the year.

Statistics Canada said the country added 35,300 jobs in October as the number of full-time positions swelled by 88,700, while part-time employment dropped by 53,400 jobs.

“After modest net job gains through the summer, October's strong result suggest there is still some life left in the economic upswing,” Bank of Montreal chief economist Doug Porter wrote in a report.

The gain in jobs came as the unemployment rate increased to 6.3 per cent, up from 6.2 per cent in September, as more young people started looking for work.

However, offsetting the jobs report, Statistics Canada also reported a $3.2-billion trade deficit for September, essentially unchanged from the previous month, which was revised to a deficit of $3.2 billion compared with an initial estimate of $3.4 billion.

"There is still some life left in the economic upswing."

The trade deficit came as both exports and imports lost ground for a fourth consecutive month in September as they both dropped 0.3 per cent.

CIBC chief economist Avery Shenfeld noted that when both exports and imports fall that typically means both foreign and domestic demand is slowing.

“If we look at the numbers for the third quarter, it is clear that exports are going to be a huge drag on growth,” he said.

The overall drop in exports came as the motor vehicles and parts sector fell 10.6 per cent, offset in part by a 7.2 per cent increase in exports of energy products. Prices of exports fell 0.6 per cent, while volumes grew 0.3 per cent.

On the other side of the equation, imports fell as the electronic and electrical equipment and parts category fell 4.6 per cent and consumer goods fell 1.9 per cent. Prices of imports fell 1.5 per cent, but volumes increased 1.3 per cent.

Economists have been predicting that the economy is slowing in the second half of the year after the red-hot pace set in the first six months of 2017.
The strong growth to start the year helped prompt the Bank of Canada to raise its key interest rate target twice, but the central bank kept it on hold last month as it also predicted growth would slow.

Shenfeld called the jobs report “a bit of an incongruity” amid the other economic data that has been pointing to a slowing of growth in the third quarter.

“Every quality measure we typically look at in the employment report was on the side of angels,” he said.

Leading the job growth in October was the “other services” category which gained 21,400 positions, while the construction industry gained 18,400 and information, culture and recreation industries added 15,300 jobs.

Offsetting those gains, the wholesale and retail trade sector lost 35,900 positions.

Regionally, Quebec posted the largest increase with a gain of 18,400 jobs, while Alberta added 11,900. Manitoba added 4,000 jobs and Newfoundland and Labrador rose by 3,400. Saskatchewan lost 4,000 jobs in October.

Compared with a year ago, employment was up by 308,100 jobs as the number of full-time jobs increased by 396,800 and the number of part-time positions fell by 88,700.

– With reporting by the Canadian Press