Payroll employment increased by 44,200 in December as gains in health care and social assistance and in transportation and warehousing offset continued losses in industries more heavily impacted by tighter public health restrictions. Payroll employment in accommodation and food services fell by 32,900, bringing combined losses in this industry over the last two months of 2020 to nearly 83,000. Employment also fell in arts, entertainment and recreation for the second consecutive month. Retail payrolls were down at year end, following six consecutive monthly increases.

All of the headline increase in payroll employment in December reflected gains among salaried workers. Employment among hourly paid workers edged lower following sharp losses in November. The number of hourly paid workers receiving pay or benefits from their employer at year end was 8.9% below pre-COVID levels, with cumulative losses since February 2020 totalling almost 870,000.

Total payroll employment in December was 6.2% below pre-COVID levels, with net losses since February remaining over one million. Total hours worked were little changed in December and 5.3% below the level reported in February 2020.

Data on job vacancies in December were also released on February 25th. Canadian employers were actively recruiting for an estimated 478,000 positions (not seasonally adjusted) as they continued to navigate public health measures and the threat of COVID‑19. One-fifth of all vacancies were in the health care and social assistance sector. Canada’s job vacancy rate, which represents vacant positions as a proportion of all positions (vacant and occupied) was 3.0% in December.

This week also saw a number of transport and travel-related releases that ended a devastating year for travel and tourism. On February 23rd, travel between Canada and other countries reported that arrivals of non-residents to Canada from both the United States and overseas countries were down 93.0% compared to December 2019. Similarly, the number of Canadian residents returning internationally was down 91.3% from December of last year. Over the year, international travel to and from Canada declined to 25.9 million from 96.8 million arrivals in 2019. The travel release included a study on the number of “other travellers”, including truck drivers and transport crew members, crossing the border each month during 2020.

On February 24th, Statistics Canada reported that Canadian railways carried 32.4 million tonnes of freight in December, unchanged from the same month a year earlier. Following a strong 6.0% year-over-year increase in November, this signalled a recovery to more seasonal levels after seven straight months of year-over-year declines since March. The total volume of rail freight in 2020 totalled 365.5 million tonnes, a decrease of 5.4% from 2019. Although total tonnage in 2020 was near the five year annual average, COVID‑19 brought a stark change in the commodities moved by rail—most evident in a shift from energy-related commodities to agricultural and food products.

As the year ended with closings of non-essential businesses to combat the second wave of the virus in many parts of the country, COVID had more impact on passenger transportation. On February 25th, the agency reported that public transit networks carried 52.5 million passengers in December, down 65.8% from December of 2019. The industry ended the year with three consecutive months of similar year-over-year declines, with December marking the lowest number of passengers since July 2020. For 2020 as a whole, Canada’s public transit networks transported 848.8 million passengers, down over one-half from about 1.9 billion passengers in 2019.

December punctuated a disastrous year for aviation in Canada and around the world as two decades of commercial traffic growth was wiped out in a matter of months. On February 25th, civil aviation statistics reported that the number of passengers carried on scheduled and charter services by major Canadian airlines was down 87.0% from December 2019, while operating revenues fell 80.6% year-over-year. Any glimmer of recovery with the 19.7% increase in passenger volumes from November to December due to higher international traffic soon ended with announcements of flight suspensions to some sun destinations as well as tighter travel restrictions, including a COVID‑19 test for international arrivals with a mandated three-night stay in a government-approved hotel.

Source: Statistics Canada