New Brunswick added 300 jobs in December even as the province's unemployment rate rose slightly to 8.9 per cent last month, according to Statistics Canada.

The latest labour force report shows the province gained 1,600 full-time jobs, while also shedding 1,300 part-time jobs in December.

The province's unemployment rate was 8.7 per cent in November but the economy also lost 3,000 jobs in that month.

David Campbell, the chief economist for the New Brunswick Jobs Board Secretariat, said the increase in full-time jobs is positive, especially when added to other full-time job gains in recent months.

"We are seeing what I would consider green shoots," he said.

"Now a lot of that, in my opinion, is due to the increased value of exports because of the low value of the Canadian dollar."

Rising exports are important for the economy but Campbell said businesses that rely on a low dollar can be hurt if the loonie starts to rebound.

He also said it provides a disincentive for business to become more productive and invest in ways to improve their companies.

David Campbell

David Campbell, the chief economist with the New Brunswick Jobs Board Secretariat, said the rise in full-time jobs is a good sign for the economy. (CBC)

While the province added a few more jobs last month, the overall trend for the year pointed to a different story.

There were 394,000 people in the province's labour force in January, 2015, but only 387,200 in December.

Campbell said the flat-lining labour force numbers are a concern.

"The labour market is actually shrinking and if you think of the upcoming exits of the [baby] boomers, that is going to get even worse," he said.

"We have really got to focus on the top line and get the labour force growing again and make sure we have enough labour to satisfy the labour needs in the province and provide labour for growth."

Campbell said a number of employers in key industries are telling the provincial government that they are having problems finding workers.

He also pointed to the participation rate, which is the number of adults in the labour force or actively trying to get a job, of 62.3, which he said is lower than he'd like to see in the province.

North faces highest jobless rates

Northern New Brunswick still has the highest levels of unemployment in the province. 

The labour force report said the jobless rate was 13 per cent in Campbellton-Miramichi and 7.5 per cent in Edmundston-Woodstock.

The jobless level in Saint John-St. Stephen was seven per cent, followed by 6.9 per cent in Moncton-Richibucto and 6.8 per cent in Fredericton-Oromocto.

Meanwhile, Statistics Canada reported Canada's job market added nearly 23,000 jobs in December, while the unemployment rate remained at 7.1 per cent.

'Fragile economy'

Denis Robichaud, the director of provincial affairs for the Canadian Federation of Independent Business in New Brunswick, said the labour force report can be a good indicator of the business climate in the province.

"We certainly look at this very seriously," Robichaud said.

"We are concerned when the numbers aren't good. Small business owners have many challenges, but if they are given the proper environment — lower taxes and fees, better support and guidance — they will expand and they will employ more people."

'We still have a very fragile economy in New Brunswick.' - Denis Robichaud, Canadian Federation of Independent Business

The province needs as many business as possible to create new jobs, if it aspires to return to the same employment levels as when the global recession hit in 2008.

In November, Statistics Canada reported there were 352,500 jobs in New Brunswick compared to 367,000 jobs when the 2008 recession started.

Along with weak jobs numbers, the provincial government also has to cope with a large debt and deficit.

The New Brunswick government has promised it will detail how it intends to tackle its fiscal problems when it unveils its budget on Feb. 2.

Roger Melanson

Finance Minister Roger Melanson will announce the provincial budget on Feb. 2 and some of the proposals in that upcoming document have business owners concerned. (CBC)

Robichaud said small- and medium-sized business owners are concerned about the province's economic climate and the possible measures in the upcoming budget.

"We still have a very fragile economy in New Brunswick," Robichaud said.

"I know that many of our members are very anxious at the moment with a few weeks to go before the provincial budget and with a many ideas still on the table that could have a significant negative impact on them, tolls, increased in the HST, higher taxes on gas and diesel, we are talking about increased fees also. Small business owners tell us they simply cannot afford to pay more."

CBC News asked three Canadian economists for their views on the province's economy in 2016.

All three indicated the provincial economy should grow modestly this year and pick up more steam in 2017.