Canada lost 45,900 jobs in December, pushing the unemployment rate up 0.3 percentage points to 7.2 per cent as more people looked for work.
The monthly loss means Canada's economy only added 102,000 jobs for all of 2013, Statistics Canada said Friday.
The poor showing surprised economists, a consensus of whom polled by Bloomberg were expecting a small gain of about 14,000 jobs during the month.
"Not only was the headline contraction in December sizable, but the losses were broad-based across industries and exclusively seen in full-time positions," TD Bank economist Sonja Gulati wrote in a report following the news.
Ontario lost 39,000 jobs during the month and even Alberta, a source of recent strength, shed 12,000 jobs.
British Columbia added 13,000 jobs, and by sector, health care and social assistance was a strength, adding 22,000 jobs during the month.
All in all, 60,000 full-time jobs were lost, a decline only partially offset by 14,000 new part-time jobs.
The monthly drop in full-time work is the largest seen since late 2011. It's the worst showing for jobs overall since March 2013 when Canada lost 54,500 jobs.
Sympathy from Flaherty
Federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty said the poor jobs showing is a "reminder" that the Canadian economy remains fragile.
"We sympathize with those Canadians who lost their job last month. This is a reminder that the economic recovery remains fragile and we must stay focused on our plan to grow the economy and keep taxes low to create the environment where job creation can flourish," he said in a statement.
"It’s also important to remember that monthly job numbers are volatile and our overall trend is positive. Indeed, for 2013 as a whole, Canada’s economy created more than 100,000 net new jobs," he said.
NDP finance critic Peggy Nash said Flaherty's last budget killed more jobs than it created and the latest job numbers undermine the credibility of the Harper Conservatives when it comes to sound economic management.
“Conservatives love to boast about their employment record, but the facts simply don’t back them up,” Nash said. “Job creation remains very weak and too many of the jobs being created are low-paying and part-time.”
While she agreed Canada may have added 100,000 jobs in 2013, she pointed out that more thane 300,000 were created in 2012.
Craig Wright, chief economist for RBC, said the job losses announced today wiped out most of the gains over the last four months.
While he warned job numbers can be volatile and vulnerable to weather, he said the wide base of the job losses was a concern.
Widespread job losses
“More than half of the industries that they monitor were down. More than half the provinces experienced declines in the month. It was very broadly based and unfortunately focused on the full-time component,” Wright told CBC News.
The dismal jobs data put pressure on the loonie, which was trading well below 91 cents U.S. Wright said it also raised the possibility of an interest rate cut by the Bank of Canada.
“Maybe the bank won't go anytime soon, but the next move for the Bank of Canada could be down,” he said.
Industry Minister James Moore, in Vancouver to make an announcement about a spectrum auction, said the federal government planned to stay the course on cutting spending, despite the increase in joblessness.
“The overall picture for the Canadian economy is still strong. The job picture is still strong,” Moore said.
He pointed to the impact of lower oil prices, which has cut jobs in the oil patch and urged the provinces to agree to Ottawa's Canada Job Grant training program.
Benchmark U.S. oil for February delivery gained $1.06 to $92.72 US per barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange today, but is well down from the $110 range it traded at last year, meaning lower profits for oil companies.
The drop in the overall number of jobs follows moves by several big companies to cut their workforces late last year.
Smartphone maker BlackBerry announced last year that it would cut its workforce by 40 per cent or about 4,500 people and has been shedding jobs ever since.
Retailer Sears Canada also announced several rounds of layoffs, while Potash Corp. of Saskatchewan said in early December it would cut 1,045 in Saskatchewan, as well as New Brunswick and Florida.
There are further losses coming at Heinz in Leamington, Ont.