How the pandemic faltered job markets in Gatineau and Ottawa

Disagreements between the two cities’ job markets have also extended to key industries.

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Despite their proximity and integrated economies, Gatineau and Ottawa have experienced two very different realities since the beginning of the pandemic.

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According to data released Friday by Statistics Canada, Gatineau’s unemployment fell to 4.4 percent in September from 4.8 percent in February 2020, a month before the first economic lockdown. In stark contrast, unemployment in the same period in Ottawa rose to 5.9 percent from 4.2 percent. These figures were adjusted for seasonal effects.

Among Canada’s largest cities, Ottawa has experienced the second largest jump in its unemployment rate next to Toronto, while Gatineau is the only one to register a fall.

What is behind the divergence? First, consider how things played out at a high level from February 2020 to September 2021. In Gatineau, employment levels have returned to where they were – 180,000 – with 300 jobs left over. The unemployment rate fell because the size of the workforce, which includes people looking for work, fell by 600.

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In Ottawa, these trends were reversed. Employment in September was 589,000, a decrease of 2,900 from February 2020, while the workforce expanded by 7,900. Result: higher unemployment.

Disagreements between the two cities’ labor markets extended to key industries. For example, health care employment rose 28 percent in Gatineau over the 19 months to nearly 24,000, while the net gain in a nearly 72,000 workforce in Ottawa was marginal. (Data for industrial sectors are not adjusted for seasonal conditions, although they are average over the last three months.)

At the same time, the number of public administration jobs in Gatineau dropped 5,300 to 46,700, while Ottawa saw a net gain of 9,300 to 142,500.

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Another oddity: There was a net drop of 700 construction jobs in Gatineau to 13,100. In Ottawa, which is benefiting from spending on several major projects such as light rail transit and the reconstruction of Parliament Hill, employment levels in the sector rose 10,000 from the start of the pandemic to a new total of 39,000.

Both cities had large declines in employment in hotels and restaurants. In Gatineau, job numbers remained nearly 20 percent below pre-pandemic levels of 7,600. The same sector in Ottawa saw employment fall by almost double the rate of 13,000 jobs to 23,300.

This pattern can be seen in the decline in part-time jobs since February 2020. Part-time jobs in Gatineau have shrunk by eight percent; in Ottawa, the decline has been 15 percent. During the same period, the number of full-time jobs has escalated in both cities: by 5.3 percent in Gatineau and by not quite four percent in Ottawa.

Taking the region as a whole, part-time jobs in September accounted for 123,600-16 percent of total employment compared to 18.7 percent before the pandemic. It was another sign of how the pandemic had changed the landscape.

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