Nfld. & Labrador

Mount Pearl entrepreneur cast into limbo by pandemic is symbolic of soaring jobless rate

Newfoundland and Labrador's already fragile economy suffered another gut-punch in April, with Statistics Canada reporting Friday that 29,000 jobs were lost in April alone.

N.L. economy sheds jaw-dropping 29K jobs in April, while jobless rate soars to 16 per cent

Tricia Stuckless is the owner of Ooh La La pet spa, which has been closed since March 23. (Meg Roberts/CBC)

Tricia Stuckless is a hard-working entrepreneur who's representative of the unprecedented shock to the Newfoundland and Labrador economy following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"It will be months or even years before we can recover," Stuckless, owner of the now shuttered Ooh La La pet spa in Mount Pearl, told CBC News.

So when numbers released Friday revealed jobs have been evaporating by the thousands since mid-March, Stuckless felt it personally. 

Stuckless and her five co-workers have been relying on emergency response benefits from Ottawa ever since her business, considered non-essential, closed March 23 due to the public health emergency orders. 

"We're treading water. The bills don't stop," she said.

'Challenging times for many'

The province's already fragile economy suffered another pandemic-driven gut-punch in April, with Statistics Canada reporting 29,000 jobs were lost.

That's on top of the 5,800 N.L. jobs that disappeared in March, when governments across Canada enacted stay-at-home orders and closed many businesses and institutions to combat the COVID-19 virus.

Dwight Ball: 'We will be there to support our businesses.' (Government of Newfoundland and Labrador )

Nationwide, an unprecedented two million jobs evaporated last month.

"These are very challenging times for many," Premier Dwight Ball said Friday in response to the data.

N.L.'s unemployment rate also spiked sharply, surging by more than four percentage points, from 11.7 per cent in March to 16 per cent in April. 

Nationally, the jobless rate reached unprecedented heights: 13 per cent.

The sobering numbers were released Friday morning as part of Statistics Canada's monthly labour market survey, and they paint a picture of a provincial economy in full retreat because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The survey shows full-time employment dropped by 27,300 from March to April, and is down more than 35,000 jobs from April 2019.

There's also been a dramatic drop in the labour force participation rate, with more than 6,000 people having either given up hope of finding a job, left the province or retired.

Ball promises help for businesses

The crisis is compounding what was already a desperate financial predicament in Newfoundland and Labrador, and Stuckless is one of those trying to remain optimistic while facing the reality of the situation.

"I think Newfoundlanders are in trouble," said Stuckless. "The small business economy is hurting and it is the base of our economy. I am very worried."

In the meantime, Stuckless is making changes to her business for the day when she can reopen, and operate in an environment where physical distancing is the new reality.

She's installing a new gate system to allow for pets to be dropped off safely, and will introduce new workplace policies requiring her team to wear face coverings and gowns.

Pets will be washed immediately upon entering her business, she explained.

"If the dogs are getting wet and they're shaking, we're going to have to make sure we're safe," she said.

And she'll implement a new arrival policy so pet owners are not bumping into one another.

When asked about the troubling job numbers, Ball said he is talking with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau about some type of emergency financial aid package.

Job numbers in Newfoundland and Labrador, according to Statistics Canada, shrank by 29,000 in April, driving the unemployment rate to 16 per cent. (Francis Ferland/CBC)

He said his government is also in talks with the business community about what he called "provincial investment," and perhaps regulatory changes to aid in the rebuilding process once the economy slowly reopens.

"They are the job creators for the people in our province. We will be there to support our businesses," Ball said.

Because of strict travel bans and physical distancing protocols, the tourism industry will be hit especially hard by the public health crisis.

"It will require some support from the provincial and federal governments," said Ball.

Wage subsidy to continue

Meanwhile, Trudeau on Friday announced that the federal wage subsidy program of up to 75 per cent will continue beyond the original June cut-off point.

He said Canadian employers have applied for subsidies for nearly two million workers, and Trudeau urged more companies to use it.

"If you have to let people go, try to bring them back," said Trudeau.

Trudeau also said seven million Canadians who lost their jobs due to the pandemic have received the emergency response benefit of $2,000 per month available to them.

"Right now Canadians are hurting," said Trudeau.

Meanwhile, men in Newfoundland and Labrador appear to be the hardest hit, with the unemployment rate for males ages 25 and over jumping by more than five points to 19.3 per cent.

The jobless rate for women in the same age group jumped by two points, to 9.6 per cent.

With many businesses either closed or operating at a reduced capacity, the survey revealed that thousands of people are working less than half their usual hours for reasons related to the pandemic.

Meanwhile, Tricia Stuckless is worried about the long-term viability of her business. 

Her bills are mounting, and she's worried that a luxury expense like pet grooming might lose its appeal in a weakened economy.

"If people have no money, they have no money to spend on their pets because they're really putting food on their tables," she said.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Meg Roberts and Terry Roberts

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