Canada's unemployment rate ticked up slightly in March to 6.7 per cent, after falling in February to its lowest level since October 2008.

Employment grew by 19,400 jobs in March, an increase of 0.1 per cent, according to Statistics Canada. But a rise in the number of people looking for work added to the unemployment rate, which rose by 0.1 points from 6.6 per cent.

Economists had expected job gains, but not to this degree. On average, economists surveyed by Bloomberg had expected the Canadian economy to add 5,930 new jobs for the month.

The March jobs report follows a string of monthly job gains. Canada added 15,000 jobs in February, and an unexpected 48,000 jobs in January.

Boosts in manufacturing, Alberta

After falling in 2016, manufacturing employment increased by 24,400 positions in March. Statistics Canada described that as "the largest one-month increase in manufacturing since August 2002."

Still, Canadian employment in manufacturing has declined by about 27 per cent since a high point in the early 2000s.


Alberta added about 20,000 positions in March, all full-time. The province's unemployment rate remains at 8.4 per cent, after peaking at nine per cent in November 2016 following the slump in commodity prices.

"While the details of the release were mixed, we would still rate this report as solid and very much in keeping with the broader trend of an economy on the rebound," wrote BMO chief economist Douglas Porter in a commentary.

Not all good news

The mixed details to which Porter referred included weakness in wage growth, which only increased 1.1 per cent on an annual basis.

"Once again, if there is a soft spot to be found, it has to be in the wage data, which is testing depths last seen in the late 1990s," wrote Brian DePratto, senior economist with TD Economics.

"It is difficult to square the soft wage data with the solid employment gains and generally robust economic indicators more broadly, while other data, including less-timely employer-based surveys, still point to healthy wage gains."

Part of the overall gains in employment can be attributed to an increase in self-employment, which increased by a net 18,400 positions on a monthly basis. Statistics Canada's definition of self-employment includes unpaid workers for family businesses.

"Typically we actually prefer to see employers hire, rather than people declaring themselves to be self-employed," CIBC chief economist Avery Shenfeld told CBC News. 

"But if you actually looked at the hiring numbers, it was the public sector that was shedding some jobs. The private sector was still showing a lot of optimism. So we're encouraged by that. "

With files from Jacqueline Hansen