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Greater Victoria's unemployment rate inches up

In Greater Victoria, the unemployment rate moved up slightly to 3.5 per cent last month from 3.3 per cent the previous month, among the lowest rates in the country.
A hiring sign at Point Hope shipyard in Victoria. TIMES COLONIST

Canada’s unemployment rate ticked up in May for the first time in nine months, but forecasters say the Bank of Canada will have to see more softening in the economy before it takes it takes a step back from raising interest rates.

In Greater Victoria, the unemployment rate moved up slightly to 3.5 per cent last month from 3.3 per cent the previous month, among the lowest rates in the country.

The region’s labour force grew marginally to 219,900 in May from 219,100 in April. Labour force reflects those people working and those hunting for jobs.

For B.C. as a whole, the unemployment rate remained unchanged at five per cent month-over-month, ­Statistics Canada said Friday in its monthly labour report.

Jobs Minister Brenda Bailey said the province saw a gain of 4,300 full-time jobs, ­including 1,500 in women’s full-time employment.

Statistics Canad said a weaker summer hiring season for youth drove Canada’s unemployment rate to 5.2 per cent, up from 5.0 per cent. Overall ­employment was little changed last month as the economy lost a modest 17,000 jobs.

“Today’s negative print ends a streak of eight months of job gains,” said TD director of ­economics James Orlando in a client note.

“The question is now: Is this a one-off or the start of a trend? The labour market had been defying gravity for months and was bound for some giveback.”

The job report comes two days after the Bank of Canada raised its key interest rate by a quarter of a percentage point, bringing it to 4.75 per cent, the highest it’s been since 2001.

The decision to end its pause on rate hikes was prompted by a string of hot economic data, including a surprisingly resilient labour market. The central bank said the strength of the Canadian economy suggests getting inflation back to two per cent may be harder than it had previously expected.

Canada’s inflation rate was 4.4 per cent in April, down from its peak of 8.1 per cent but still well above the central bank’s target.

Economists reacting to ­Friday’s report said the Bank of Canada will need more than one relatively weaker job report to back away from rate hikes. Many of them are expecting the central bank to move ahead with another rate hike in July.

“If 425 basis points was not enough to slow things down, is another 25 basis points going to be the straw that breaks the camel’s back? That’s kind of hard to believe,” said Benjamin Reitzes, BMO’s managing director of Canadian rates and macro strategist.

Earlier this year, the central bank paused its aggressive ­rate-hiking cycle that began in March 2022. The Bank of Canada was hoping its rapid monetary policy tightening — which raised the cost of borrowing ­significantly for consumers and businesses — would be enough to stifle inflation.

But the economy has proven to be more resilient this year than it had expected. Employers have continued to hire, consumers are spending and the economy is growing.

Wages also continue to rise rapidly, which the Bank of Canada said could stand in the way of restoring price stability. Average hourly wages were up 5.1 per cent in May compared to a year ago.

Reitzes said the full effect of rate hikes have yet to filter through the economy, but even with that taken into account, the central bank is likely nervous that high inflation is pushing up inflation expectations among consumers and businesses.

“If you don’t act more forcefully to bring down growth in a more timely manner, you run the risk of having inflation expectations stay higher,” Reitzes said.

So far, the central bank has said very little about where it plans to take interest rates. During a news conference on Thursday, deputy governor Paul Beaudry said the central bank hasn’t made up its mind yet about July’s rate decision.

“Every decision is taken one at a time at this point,” Beaudry said.

The Bank of Canada will have one more jobs report before its next interest rate decision, as well as updated readings on inflation and real gross domestic product.

Although the job market hasn’t slowed enough for the central bank’s liking just yet, Statistics Canada noted in its report that job growth has moderated in recent months. It says monthly job gains between February and April averaged at 33,000. That follows the economy adding more than 300,000 jobs cumulatively between September and January.

— With a file from Carla Wilson, Times Colonist

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