VANCOUVER -- B.C.'s unemployment rate is continuing to climb in the novel coronavirus pandemic, and the latest figures from Statistics Canada were released Friday.

According to Statistics Canada's monthly labour force survey, B.C.'s unemployment rate was at 13.4 per cent in May – up from 11.5 per cent the month before. Nationwide, the rate was 13.7 per cent, up from 13.

Finance Minister Carole James spoke about the new unemployment numbers at a briefing Friday morning, explaining the survey results are from the week of May 10 to 16, which is before B.C. entered Phase 2 of its restart plan. 

"The numbers continue to show a volatile labour market across every sector and in every region of our province," James said. 

But even though there was an increase in unemployment, James pointed to some "glimmers of hope" as the province actually created 43,300 jobs as people start to return to work. 

"We are beginning to see some glimmers of increased confidence, but we also know we have a long road ahead of us to recovery," she said. 

"Overall, we've seen job loss of more than 353,000 since the pandemic began."

James said young people have been among the hardest hit in the province as the youth unemployment rate hit 28.9 per cent and 115,000 jobs have been lost among that age group since the pandemic began. 

"That's really a reflection of the sectors that are suffering the most," she said. 

"Accommodation and food services and wholesale and retail trade. Those sectors continue still to lead all other industries in job losses, making up 46 per cent of the total jobs lost."

Farah Steen, a general manager at Lonsdale Quay Hotel in North Vancouver, said hoteliers are struggling and about 40 per cent of hotels have been completely shut down since the pandemic.

Steen said her establishment is an anomaly because she reached out to Lions Gate Hospital and opened up rooms for health care workers and others in the community who needed a safe place to stay.

“We saw a really big need in the community for people needing to self isolate,” she explained. “When you have people in need, you don't charge them the same rates as you normally do. So what happened is our rates came down significantly.”

She said the revenue for each occupied room was about $24 while the rate this time last year was about $138.

As a result, her hotel was not immune to layoffs. At the start of the pandemic, 40 per cent were laid off but due to the wage subsidy program, another 15 to 20 per cent were brought back.

“We can't have your rooms occupied at all times. By guest check out, there must be a quarantine period. So housekeepers are not working as frequently. You don't have as many front desk clerks because you don't have that many people checking in,” she said.

While Canada reported a record high unemployment rate, it also added 289,600 jobs. 

At 13.7 per cent, the unemployment rate topped the country's previous high of 13.1 per cent set in December 1982 in more than four decades of comparable data.

On a more local level, at least four B.C. cities also saw their unemployment rates go up from April to May: 

  • Vancouver 10.7 per cent (up from 7.5)
  • Kelowna 9.6 per cent (up from 8.1)
  • Abbotsford-Mission 7.5 per cent (up from 5.9)
  • Victoria 10.1 per cent (up from 7.2)

"We have to remember that those numbers are families. They're individuals. They're small businesses who have really struggled and are continuing to struggle as we move into recovery," James said.

The opposition party said the province can do more to help in that recovery effort.

“It's up to the provincial government to provide the incentives to give people the confidence to get out there. Let's drop sales tax for three months, let's slow down the push on regulation, let's make sure the British columbians have a chance to get back to work, because we've got about 300,000 people are still waiting for a job,” said Andrew Wilkinson, leader of the BC Liberals.

While consumers may have growing confidence to go get a haircut or dine in, Steen isn’t so sure travellers will be coming to her hotel any time soon.

That’s why she is working on ways to entice locals to enjoy a staycation.

“We've had to be innovative and work together with Vancouver's North Shore Tourism Association,” she said, “so people in B.C. can travel in the summer and get great rates.”

Watch an American Sign Language translation of the news conference on the provincial government's YouTube page. 

With files from The Canadian Press


An earlier version incorrectly referred to the North Shore Tourism Association as the North Shore Hotel Association.