Montreal

Quebec lost 264,000 jobs to COVID-19 crisis last month

Quebec's unemployment rate rose 3.6 per cent to 8.1 per cent, the highest percent increase in Canada.

Quebec's unemployment rate rose to 8.1 per cent last month

Quebec, where businesses have been ordered closed for weeks, lost 264,000 jobs in March. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

Quebec lost an estimated 264,000 jobs last month, shooting the province's unemployment rate up above eight per cent, according to Statistics Canada.

The agency's monthly labour force report, released Thursday, said the closest comparison to the sudden decline in economic activity and employment caused by COVID-19 was the 1998 ice storm, which affected Quebec and Ontario.

In all last month, Canada lost more than one million jobs. Economists had been expecting the figure to come in at around 500,000 jobs lost, which already would have been the worst month for job losses on record.

"The increase in absences the week of March 15 to 21 was more than eight times greater than that observed in 1998," the report said.

Quebec's unemployment rate rose 3.6 per cent to 8.1 per cent, the largest increase in the country, followed by British Columbia, where the rate increased 2.2 per cent to 7.2 per cent, and Ontario, where it went up by 2.1 per cent to 7.6 per cent. 

Quebec also had the sharpest decline in employment in education, with 73,000 jobs lost. In Ontario, 25,000 jobs were lost.

On March 12, Quebec banned large gatherings. The next day, the province declared a public health emergency and announced closed schools, universities and daycares would close.

By midnight March 24, all non-essential businesses in the province were closed.

Food service, tourism industries takes big hit

The COVID-19 crisis has led to the most sudden and severe impact in the labour market of all Statistics Canada's records, which date back to 1976, said statistician Andrew Fields. 

"Typically, when we look at recessions in the past, they occur over many months or years even," Fields said. "The 2009 recession didn't just occur in one month. The unemployment rate picked up over the course of two years."

The accommodation and food services industry saw the largest declines overall, which Fields says is not surprising because "those were the earliest businesses to close."

David Lefebvre of Restaurants Canada, a national service industry association, agrees that it's not a surprise.

According to the association, about 10 per cent of restaurants in Quebec are already saying they won't be able to get back on their feet after the COVID-19 crisis — and Lefebvre says more are expected to join them. 

"We think lots of jobs will come back, but not every job will come back," Lefebvre said.

"To have jobs, you need strong businesses, and we want as many to be able to weather the storm and be able to relaunch the economy and of course the food service sector in due time."

Sebastien Viau of L'Alliance de l'industrie touristique du Québec, a Quebec tourism association, says the timing couldn't be worse for a crisis to hit.

"It's just before the summer season where all the festivals are happening," Viau said.

However, he's hopeful the industry will be able to bounce back.

"Tourism has always been part of the economy bouncing back. It could drive the economy more regionally, more locally," Viau said.

The association is already planning a relaunching strategy for when measures ease up. 

Corrections

  • A previous version of this story stated Quebec lost 264,000 jobs last month, the most in the country, and had the highest unemployment rate. In fact, Ontario lost more jobs (403,000) and Quebec's unemployment rate increased by the highest amount, but the rate is not the highest in Canada.
    Apr 09, 2020 11:43 AM ET

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