OTTAWA -- Canada's job performance last month was the worst since the global recession as 54,500 workers joined the ranks of the unemployed, all full-time and all in the important private sector.
Economists were left scrambling to lower their assessments of the North American economy following the unexpected reversal of February's job gains, combined with a Canadian trade report for February that was almost as bad, and soft job creation south of the border.
Manitoba was one of only four provinces that experienced an increase in the number of people working in March. Employment increased by 2,000 in Manitoba but the number of people looking for work increased by 3,000 so the unemployment rate went up to 5.0 per cent from 4.9 per cent. Most of the new jobs in Manitoba were part-time with full-time employment down slightly to 458,100.
The loonie had tumbled more than a cent in early trading, but ended the session down 0.39 of a cent at 98.39 cents US.
"It doesn't get much uglier than this," Bank of Montreal chief economist Douglas Porter said in a commentary.
Even taking into account that Canada's jobs report is essentially a survey and subject to a margin for error, the combination of all three economic releases Friday gives credence to the view that the soft patch seen in the second half of 2012 has continued into 2013.
"Combined with the trade numbers and the sluggish U.S. numbers... It does suggest the North American economy hit some heavy weather in March," Porter said.
"Is it going to weaken further? I don't believe it will. I believe this is a soft patch but we will get out of it later this year."
Still, Porter estimated the Canadian economy would struggle to grow at a one per cent pace in the first half of 2013, after barely advancing at a 0.7 per cent rate in the last six months of 2012.
"It's a long road to recovery and the government's austerity measures are not going to get us there," agreed NDP finance critic Peggy Nash, who criticized the government for delaying new infrastructure spending when jobs are needed now.
Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, in an email released by his office, called the March result "disappointing," but noted the monthly report was merely a "snapshot in time" and not indicative of the overall record.
"If you look at job creation since the depth of the global recession July 2009 employment in Canada has increased by nearly 900,000 and is now more than 465,000 above its pre-recession peak," he said, adding the economy as a whole is also above pre-recession levels.
March's jobs loss was the biggest one-month decline since February 2009 and, with a small retreat in the number of people looking for work, helped lift Canada's unemployment rate 0.2 to 7.2 per cent.
Meanwhile, February recorded the eleventh straight trade deficit for Canada, as exports fell by 0.6 per cent and the deficit widened to $1 billion.
The troika of bad news was completed by a U.S. Labour Department report issued at the same time that found American employers added only 88,000 jobs in March -- a nine-month low.
-- The Canadian Press