New job numbers reveal innovative Canadians

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Canadians are taking the recession into our own hands, and we have the employment numbers to prove it. Have we hit bottom? Not necessarily, but, hey, we the people aren't using this time of economic stagnation to stand still and do nothing.

That's the poetry of the new job numbers for April that came out last week.

The surprising tally shows that instead of declining, the number of jobs rose by 35,900 last month, despite constant news of layoffs both threatened and real.

Here's to ingenuity, because it's a rise in the ranks of the full-time self-employed by 37,000 -- primarily in Quebec and British Columbia -- that accounts for the job growth. But even without that, here in Ontario employment held steady, which is a shock considering the 174,000 jobs we shed over the preceding four months.

And even if you take the number of self-employed out of the picture, the decline in full-time private employment in Canada as a whole was just over 10,000 instead of the average drop of 60,000 jobs per month from December to March.

The wage picture is also strong. In April, the hourly wage was 4.3 per cent higher compared with April 08. That is the kind of relative good news we can use right now.

Whether we have hit bottom or not, the numbers suggest that resilient Canadians, despite the odds, are somehow managing to grow a new economy from the bottom up.

Certainly the newly self-employed, whose courageous, singular decisions gave job numbers the biggest hike, face stressful and insecure times. Business and union commentators tend to dismiss these resourceful folks as mainly desperate. But there's more to the story than that.

Times are really tough for lots of us, but there is a flurry of invention going on right now as a result. And future projects that will underlie a restructured prosperity are being modelled in this galvanizing atmosphere.

The sectors of job growth affirm that picture. Employment grew in the areas of information, "culture and recreation," "business, building and support services" and "other services" as well as agriculture.

Sounds like a checklist for a reimagined, more sustainable economy that doesn't rely so heavily on the disintegrating large manufacturing and commodity sectors. Naturally, these one-month results don't tell a definitive tale, but these are intriguing signs.

And they're especially evocative when matched with this week's latest trade numbers, which show that despite the decline in exports triggered by the recession, Canada continues to have a trade surplus -- a trick accomplished because we imported less than we exported by $1.1 billion in March. This surplus is trending upwards, from $262 million in February as imports, particularly in energy products and automotive, decline.

Again, this isn't particularly happy news for the export-oriented companies that are facing difficult, job-shrinking contraction. It also speaks to less consumer lust. But with Canadians collectively, people and companies, buying fewer imports, the economy is maintaining its balance in favour of the local.

I'm not surprised by our economic resilience. In fact, we have seen this before. Just a year before this recession began, remember, we had a year of currency chaos. It was 2007, and the loonie went from 84 cents in January to reach par with the U.S. dollar in November. It all seems so far away now, because there have been so many crises since then.

But these were really tough times for an export economy like ours, and commentators thought it would be the undoing of the economy. Yet we weathered the currency correction storm without the devastating unemployment rise predicted by most, maintaining instead some of the lowest unemployment numbers in three decades, despite losses in manufacturing.

As a country of native people and immigrants from everywhere, we literally have a world of experience to draw from as we tackle the experience of recession. And the compelling and ever-present mandate of a green revolution actually offers an almost endless scape of potential new enterprise.

What we all need is policy leaders and politicians to start looking at these job creation numbers closely and getting on board with some more encouragement.

Government programs that foster more support for small business and micro-businesses are a perfect companion to better, more inclusive EI support. People creating new economic entities save the government money and add to the tax base. It's all positive.

Surely, given that finance and auto have garnered billions in government loans, we could make a special loan fund and more support available to those willing to take a chance on themselves.

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