The story of the Canadian labour market in the second half of 2011 was a recovery knocked off course by events in international financial markets. The crises associated with the US debt ceiling and European sovereign debt drove down commodity prices and the Canadian dollar.
So the fact that employment growth slowed in the wake of the uncertainty in financial markets seems unsurprising. Moreover, it seems plausible that one of the hardest-hit sectors would be those who worked in financial markets: the FIRE sector (finance, insurance and real estate).
But it's not at all clear to me that this is in fact what's going on.
Update: In what follows, LFS is the Labour Force Survey, which surveys households. The SEPH is the Survey of Employment, Payrolls and Hours, which surveys employers. See here for a post where the differences are thrashed out.
Here is a graph of changes in employment since last June:
To a very great extent, the story of weak employment growth is driven by employment losses in the FIRE sector in the Labour Force Survey (LFS). (I still don't know what happened in September.)
I don't know what to make of that jump in February. A surge in FIRE employment? A correction of a statistical glitch? But certainly the story from June to December is very different, depending on which survey you'd use. It's not immediately obvious to me why there would be such a divergence; I welcome theories and conjecture in the comments.
Here are the same graphs for Ontario:
Again, the ex-FIRE LFS is pretty close to both SEPH series.
Maybe October is the glitch here?
And finally, here are the Quebec numbers:
Roughly two-thirds of the August-January employment losses in Quebec were in the FIRE sector, and the SEPH didn't pick up anything there.
I don't really know how to resolve this dispute. Anecdotes like this don't seem consistent with a story in which FIRE employment is struggling, but maybe those reported increases in hiring are the jumps we see in the LFS FIRE numbers at the end of these graphs.
We've gotten used to treating the LFS as being definitive. We should revisit that habit.