By Maryanna Lewyckyj
Canadian job growth went into hibernation mode in January, while Ontario's appetite for workers roared.
Although Canada lost 2,100 jobs last month, Ontario gained 26,000 positions, enough to see the unemployment rate ease to 6.8%, down from 7% in December.
The biggest gains were in the finance, real estate and leasing sectors, as well as transportation.
Toronto's jobless rate fell to 7% in January (down from 7.1%), while Hamilton's rate was 6.4% (up from 6%) and Oshawa's rate was 5.9% (down from 6.1%).
Meanwhile, Canada's jobless rate slipped to 7.4%, down from 7.5% in December, due to a slight decline in the number of people looking for work.
While 34,000 full-time jobs were added across Canada, 37,000 part-time jobs were lost, creating the first monthly deficit in jobs since December 2001.
The slowdown follows a record-breaking 2002 when 560,000 positions were added. Some analysts feel a chill in job growth was inevitable after the sizzling showing last year.
"I wouldn't read too much into the so-called weakness in this report," said Douglas Porter, senior economist at BMO Nesbitt Burns.
"It would concern me if we saw another couple of months of this."
However, Porter was disturbed to see the manufacturing sector slide again in January, with 15,000 factory jobs lost.
It's the fourth decline posted in that sector in the past five months.
South of the border, the picture was quite different, as the U.S. jobless rate dropped to 5.7% as businesses added 143,000 new jobs. That's the largest gain since November 2000.
"We've spent the past year talking about weak U.S. numbers and strong Canadian numbers and that's been turned on its head," Porter said.
The strong U.S. showing raises hopes that the ailing U.S. economy may mend before the misery spreads to Canada.
"We think there will be a firmer U.S. recovery slowly taking hold, especially after the Iraq situation is settled one way or another," Porter said.
He notes that the uncertainty surrounding a possible war is a distraction to both consumers and businesses and a possible deterrent to spending.
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