Canada's jobless rate at pandemic low as election race enters final stage

OTTAWA (Reuters) -Canada posted strong jobs growth in August and the unemployment rate fell to its lowest point since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, according to data that could boost Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s hopes for reelection later this month.

FILE PHOTO: A woman walks past a “Help wanted” sign at a retail store in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, November 2, 2017. REUTERS/Chris Wattie/File Photo

Canada added 90,200 jobs last month, close to analysts’ average estimate of 100,000, and the jobless rate dropped to 7.1%, below the 7.3% estimate, Statistics Canada reported on Friday. Employment is now within 1% of pre-pandemic levels.

The ruling Liberals led by Trudeau, now in the crucial last stage of the campaign before the Sept. 20 election here, have seized upon the country’s economic rebound to trumpet their fiscal policies, including heavy spending to fight the pandemic.

“These results are a testament to the hard work of Canadians, as well as the strength of our plan to get Canadians through the pandemic to recovery,” Mona Fortier, the junior finance minister, said in a statement.

The employment data showed the summer reopening had bolstered the hardest-hit segments of the services sector.

“It was a solid report, probably a little bit better than we expected. The main story is the economy is slowly but surely grinding back,” said Doug Porter, chief economist at BMO Capital Markets.

Trudeau’s hopes of extending his six years in power were dealt a setback last month after data showed Canada’s economy unexpectedly contracted here in the second quarter and again in July. Next week’s inflation numbers are the final major economic release before the vote. Trudeau is in a close race with his main rival, Conservative leader Erin O’Toole.

Economists said while the jobs data was mostly positive, the number of hours worked by Canadians barely changed and remains 2.6% below pre-pandemic levels, which could weigh on economic growth.

“As much as it is nice to see more people going back to work it is a concern that we are not seeing more hours worked in the economy,” said Andrew Kelvin, chief Canada strategist at TD Securities.

The services sector dominated the job gains, led mostly by the hard-hit accommodation and food services segments. Service-sector employment returned to pre-pandemic levels last month, though that was mostly due to growth in professional services, public administration and educational services.

The construction sector posted its first employment gain since March, helping keep the goods sector in positive territory. That was partially offset by a decline in agricultural jobs.

Analysts noted that challenges remain, especially as a fourth wave of COVID-19 infections threatens to unravel some gains in the services sector. Labor shortages amid a persistent mismatch between job seekers’ skills and employers needs will also weigh.

“If Canada wants stable economic growth, we need to make sure we’re creating opportunities for a post-pandemic workforce,” the Canadian Chamber of Commerce’s Leah Nord said in a statement.

The Canadian dollar was trading 0.5% higher at 1.26 to the greenback, or 79.37 U.S. cents.

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