B.C. loses 6,500 jobs in February, COVID-19 concerns intensify

Photo: Rob Kruyt

What happened: B.C. among two provinces to post job losses in February

Why it matters: Declines in employment come as economic concerns over coronavirus ramp up

January job gains in B.C. were wiped out in one fell swoop last month — and then some — with the province shedding 6,500 jobs in February.

The West Coast also saw its unemployment rate jump 0.5 percentage points to land at 5%, losing its claim to Quebec (4.5%) as Canada’s lowest, according to Statistics Canada data released Friday (March 6).

The losses come as work at B.C. ports has slowed amid rail blockades as well as reduced traffic coming from China as a result of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19).

And BMO chief economist Douglas Porter was quick to point out that the full extent of COVID-19 wasn’t measured in StatsCan’s February data.

“The survey [was] conducted way back in the middle of last month — when the coronavirus was still seen as a distant threat, and confined mostly to China and a cruise ship,” he said.

The number of COVID-19 cases in B.C. has since risen to 21.

“Still, that's three months in a row of good job gains in Canada, suggesting that the economy perhaps had a bit more momentum heading into the storm than it was given credit for — despite the BoC's negative commentary this week,” Porter said, referring to the Bank of Canada’s decision to cut its benchmark rate 50 basis points to 1.25%.

Canada as a whole added 30,300 jobs last month, while the national employment rate rose 0.1 percentage points to 5.6%.

“If it weren't for COVID-19, this release would have us in an upbeat mood,” TD senior economist Brian DePratto said in a note.

“At this point, the rear-view mirror of this and other early-2020 data is even less helpful than normal in assessing the Bank of Canada's path forward. As Wednesday's interest rate decision and follow-up speech showed, the Bank of Canada is more concerned about what's to come as COVID-19 effects ripple through the economy. The first volley in the battle against confidence and other negative impacts has been fired, and it seems safe to assume there is more to come.”

The biggest losses in B.C. were felt in the manufacturing (-5,100 jobs), educational services (-4,500), and professional, scientific and technical services (-3,000 jobs) sectors.

Notable gains were seen in wholesale and retail trade (+8,400 jobs) and business, building and other support services (+3,600 jobs).