Editorial

Canadian industry added 378,000 new jobs in September, bringing the national unemployment rate down to nine per cent from levels of 10.9 per cent in July and 10.2 per cent in August. This job expansion was achieved even as the daily number of new COVID-19 cases was rising.

The September employment growth was welcome in itself for the relief it brought to families with mouths to feed and bills to pay. It was doubly welcome because it showed that Canadians have learned how to go about their business even in the midst of a spreading pandemic.

Liberal revamp pandemic rent-relief program

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A welder works in a factory in Quebec City, Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2012. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jacques Boissinot
A welder works in a factory in Quebec City, Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2012. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jacques Boissinot

Posted: 09/10/2020 2:22 PM

OTTAWA - The Trudeau Liberals sought Friday to get ahead of growing economic concerns linked to rising COVID-19 case counts, vowing new and revamped business supports to keep workers on payrolls and maintain job gains threatened by the pandemic's second wave.

The government plans to provide direct rent support to commercial tenants at a projected cost of $2.2 billion through the end of the year, rather than flowing the money through landlords who were not keen on a previous version of the program.

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The U.S. monthly employment report, published last Friday alongside Canada’s Labour Force Survey, showed that a similar result was achieved in that country. Total employment in the U.S. rose by 661,000 in September, bringing the national unemployment rate down by half a percentage point to 7.9 per cent. The rate of daily new cases in the U.S. was rising steadily through that period.

Canadians and Americans will need to maintain and nurture the skills of working amid the virus because there is no sign that it will disappear soon. Work to develop a vaccine continues on many fronts, but meanwhile we have a long winter to get through when we will be clustering more closely together in homes and workplaces, breathing each other’s air.

The Canadian jobs report last Friday showed that a few industrial sectors are still far below the levels of employment they enjoyed in February, before the virus spread across the country. Hotels and restaurants have been hit harder than any sector. Retail trade employment is disastrously down. Construction and transportation are struggling and may suffer further cuts as airlines continue laying off employees.

These industrial sectors, however, are struggling within an economy that is doing better than one might expect. Three million Canadian jobs disappeared in March and April. Three-quarters of the lost jobs have been recovered since then, so that employment now stands 720,000 short of the February level.

The restaurant and hotel sector has been hit hardest by the pandemic.</p>

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

The restaurant and hotel sector has been hit hardest by the pandemic.

The 18.5 million Canadians who were employed in September are all accustomed now to the new habits and the new etiquette that the COVID-19 era requires. The 1.8 million who were unemployed add up to a larger crowd of jobless than the country is used to handling, but it’s not unreasonable to ask the 18.5 million to extend a hand and help carry the 1.8 million across this rough spot.

The daily reports of rising COVID-19 case numbers and the steady toll of COVID-19 deaths can be disheartening. If you look only at spread of the pandemic, it seems to be getting steadily worse. But that’s not the whole story.

The good news that has appeared at the same time is that most of Canada, like most of the United States, is still at work despite the difficulties — and likely to remain so. The employment picture is getting steadily brighter, even as the virus finds new victims and the hospital beds fill.

There is, of course, no assurance that employment growth will continue at the rate of recent months. Winter is always hard and this one looks likely to be harder than most. The point is that Canadians, like people in other countries, are learning how to do this – grumbling and complaining all the way, to be sure, but never mind. We are adapting to these new realities, and that will get us out the other side.