B.C. leads western provinces in employment gains with 23,900 jobs added in November

StatsCan data gathered prior to urgings from provincial authorities for B.C.'ers to limit interactions

Afternoon tea at the Empress Hotel in Victoria. The province added thousands of jobs in food services and accommodation in November, according to the latest Statistics Canada data | Photo: Darren Stone, Times Colonist

What happened: B.C. leads all provinces — save for Ontario — in job gains in November

Why it matters: This comes amid a resurgence of COVID-19 that has brought about new restrictions 

British Columbia was the only western province to add jobs to its labour force in November even as provincial officials urged British Columbians to limit travel and interact only with those in their own households.

Data released Friday (December 4) reveals the province gained 23,900 jobs last month, bringing the unemployment rate down 0.9 percentage points to 7.1% compared with a month earlier.

The sizeable gains come the same month provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry began urging British Columbians to refrain from interactions with those outside their households — measures that would presumably limit time spent in businesses such as restaurants.

However, those pleas came about on November 20 while Statistics Canada’s data reflect labour market conditions as of the week of November 8-14.

Food services and accommodation added 7,300 jobs between October and November, however, that sector would presumably have been hurt by the new restrictions.

Transportation and warehousing (+6,300 jobs), and wholesale and retail trade (+6,200 jobs) also led with significant gains last month.

Construction (+5,700 jobs), natural resources (+4,500 jobs) and professional, scientific and technical services (+4,300 jobs) rounded out the industries adding the most positions.

Losses were felt in manufacturing (-4,700 jobs) and information, culture and recreation (-4,400 jobs).

Ken Peacock, chief economist of the Business Council of B.C., noted that the recent gains mean B.C. is now down only 37,000 jobs compared with pre-pandemic levels.

The core working age group — those between 25 and 54 years old — have fully returned to February employment levels, while the remaining shortfall sits on 15-24-year olds, he added.

Peacock told BIV that specific sectors such as tourism are still hurting but he’s been pleasantly surprised by the rapid rebound since the outset of the pandemic when he initially believed B.C. could have been down by as many as 200,000 jobs at this point in the year.

“The next six months are going to be tough just because the winter is going to be challenging. As everybody knows, cases are going up,” he said.

“But as the prospect of a vaccine gets closer and … when the general population in Canada starts to get vaccinated, things will look very different all of a sudden.”

Canada as a whole added 62,100 jobs last month, bringing the unemployment rate down 0.4 percentage to 8.5%.

Only Ontario made more gains in employment than B.C. last month, with 36,600 jobs added.

B.C. was the only western province to add jobs as Manitoba (-18,100 jobs), Saskatchewan (-2,800 jobs) and Alberta (-10,800 jobs) all experienced losses.

“November's labour market improvement is a welcome development in the face of a rising second wave. We suspect the job cuts in the hospitality sector, and possibly retail, will bite much deeper in next month's report, as restrictions tightened notably immediately after this survey period,” BMO chief economist Douglas Porter said in a note, referring to national figures.

“But, overall, the report is firmer than expected, and suggests that the economy is dealing a bit better than anticipated with the early stages of the second wave. In turn, that puts a small degree of upside risk on our forecast for Q4 growth.”

TD senior economist James Marple concluded the impact of a second resurgence of COVID-19 is slowing the country’s recovery.

“Unfortunately, the labour market picture appears likely to deteriorate further in December. The rapid increase in caseloads has continued, and while provinces such as B.C. and Alberta have taken a softer touch to restrictions on high-touch industries, health concerns are likely to weaken activity in these provinces as well,” he said in a note.

“Fiscal supports such as expanded employment insurance, the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy and the newly minted Canada Emergency Rent Subsidy will help ease the burden on worker and businesses in those areas of the economy. But this winter won't be easy. The makeup of Canada's labour market is likely to look different coming out of this pandemic than it did going in.”