Ottawa-Gatineau posts third-lowest April unemployment rate in Canada amid pandemic

Statistics Canada reports the Ottawa-Gatineau unemployment rate rose to 6.9 per cent in April as the economy took a hit from the novel coronavirus pandemic. Sean Kilpatrick / Canadian Press

The National Capital Region’s economy appears to be among the most resilient in the country to the disruption of the novel coronavirus pandemic, according to the latest Labour Force Survey released Friday.

Statistics Canada reported that Ottawa-Gatineau employers collectively shed 29,200 jobs in April, up from the 17,200 positions lost in March when parts of the region’s economy began to shut down in hopes of slowing the spread of the virus.

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That pushed Ottawa-Gatineau’s unemployment rate to 6.9 per cent, up from 5.1 per cent the previous month. Unemployment stood at 4.3 per cent in the region before the pandemic set in.

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Statistics Canada’s metropolitan employment figures are based on a three-month rolling average, so April’s report also includes stats from March and February — weeks that had not yet felt the impact of province-wide shutdown orders.

Still, the partial picture emerging of how the coronavirus pandemic is affecting economies across the country appears to show a level of resilience in Ottawa-Gatineau, as the region posted the third-lowest unemployment rate of any major metropolitan area in Canada.

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Speaking to reporters at a media availability Friday afternoon, Mayor Jim Watson said he believed two of the city’s major employers — the public sector and the tech industry — are to credit for keeping the capital working.

While some sectors faced harsh cuts in April, such as the food and accommodations industry, which shed nearly 10,000 jobs, Statistics Canada reported that the public administration sector shrank by just 900 positions.

Watson also hailed Ottawa’s “nimble” tech sector for quickly adapting to the pandemic, pointing specifically to e-commerce giant Shopify, which asked its 4,000-plus employees to start working fully remotely in the early days of the pandemic.

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Shopify itself has shown little sign of slowing in recent weeks, surpassing RBC as Canada’s most valuable company after beating quarterly earnings expectations on Wednesday.

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But Watson cautioned Friday that it was still too early to declare victory over the virus and its impact on the region’s economy.

“We’re doing well but it’s still not a time to stop and gloat,” he said.

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