Canada added 35,400 jobs in January, far surpassing the slight gain that economists had been expecting.
Statistics Canada said Friday that most of the jobs were part time. But the strong figure was enough to tick the jobless rate down by one-tenth of a percentage point, to 6.6 per cent.
Economists polled by Bloomberg had been expecting 5,000 new jobs, and the jobless rate to stay the same at 6.7.
The economy added almost 50,000 part-time jobs in the month, but that was partly offset by a loss of more than 11,000 full-time jobs.
By province, the jobs figures went up in Quebec, Alberta, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island. At the same time, there was a decline in Saskatchewan.
Despite an ongoing oil patch slowdown, Alberta added 14,000 jobs during the month, the data agency said. That means the province has added 67,000 new jobs in the past year, good enough to maintain its position as the fastest growing province.
Although the headline figure was undeniably a pleasant surprise, some economists muted their optimism.
"The details of the report are quite weak and the gains are due entirely to part-time job gains," Scotiabank noted. "Given the volatility and frequent revisions we’ve seen lately in Canadian jobs data releases, we caution against drawing too many conclusions on this one data point just yet."
TD Bank's Leslie Preston had another reason for pessimism in the data.
The private sector, the traditional engine of economic growth, added only about 1,000 jobs, while the public sector actually shrank by almost 7,000 people.
"The bulk of the job gains were in self-employment, which rose 41,000 jobs," she said.
Economists are often critical of self-employment, because those jobs don't always last — in many cases it's a job class that people go into after other plans have fallen through, but they'd prefer full-time work for someone else.