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Canada’s labour market returns to pre-pandemic levels

Canada’s employment numbers are back to pre-pandemic levels after the country added 157,000 jobs in September.

The boost to the labour market last month builds on the 90,000 jobs gained in August, according to Statistics Canada’s Labour Force Survey released Friday morning.

The unemployment rate fell to 6.9 per cent from 7.1, and the participation rate, which refers to people working or seeking work, rose slightly from 65.1 per cent to 65.5 per cent.

The survey was conducted from Sept. 12 to 18, around the time when Ontario, British Columbia, Manitoba, Quebec, and Alberta either required or planned to require proof of vaccination to enter non-essential businesses such as restaurants, bars, and gyms.

The return of employment to pre-pandemic levels is a good milestone for Canada to reach, but it doesn’t mean the country has fully recovered, said Royce Mendes, head of CIBC Economics.

“It’s not mission accomplished (yet),” he said. “The population of 15 and older is about 400,000 more than it was in February of 2020, which means there are a lot more people who need to get back to work before we can say the labour market and the economy is back to normal.”

While the job gains are encouraging, Canada’s long-term unemployment remains a concern, says Leah Nord, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce’s senior director of workforce strategies.

Not enough data are available to explain why nearly 400,000 Canadians haven’t been able to find work after 27 weeks or longer, she said.

“We have to dig a little deeper into why (these people are unemployed), because, once we understand why, then we can have the policy solutions,” Nord said.

Pandemic benefits, such as the wage and rent subsidies, are due to expire on Oct. 23, but they’ve become a lifeline for many businesses across the country. As of Sept. 26, the wage subsidy paid $93.4 billion to 4.4 million applicants, according to government data. The rent subsidy, which covers a portion of a business’s rent, paid $6.6 billion to 1.6 million applicants, also as of Sept. 26.

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland said they’ll have more information on pandemic supports in the coming weeks, but they wouldn’t say whether the emergency benefits will continue after Oct. 23.

READ MORE: COVID-benefit deadline looms as Ottawa promises more support

The CIBC’s Mendes said the economy is still in a tenuous position because of the pandemic’s fourth wave.

“We can’t completely rule out … further pain to come, as the weather gets cooler and more activity is pulled indoors,” he said. “(The economy) still needs support.”

Employment rose in Ontario, Quebec, Alberta, Manitoba, New Brunswick, and Saskatchewan, the survey shows.

The largest job gains were in Ontario (74,000), Quebec (31,000), and Alberta (20,000).

Quebec’s unemployment rate of 4.1 per cent is lowest, while Newfoundland and Labrador’s 13.1 per cent is highest.

Alberta’s unemployment, 8.1 per cent, remains above the pre-pandemic rate of 7.5 per cent in February 2020.

Ontario’s unemployment rate is 7.5 per cent.

In separate statements, Vic Fedeli, Ontario’s minister of Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade, and Doug Schweitzer, Alberta’s minister of Jobs, Economy and Innovation, said their provinces have fully recovered the jobs lost since the start of the pandemic.

This story was copy-edited after publication.

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