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Mantitoba Finance Minister Scott Fielding speaks with the media in Ottawa, on Dec. 17, 2019.

Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

Manitoba has posted one of the strongest employment rebounds in the country during the COVID-19 pandemic, Statistics Canada numbers show.

The agency's monthly jobs report released Friday says 28,900 more Manitobans were working in June compared with May, and May's numbers had already jumped from April's. Total employment by June had recovered to 93 per cent of what it was in February before the pandemic began — the second-highest rate among the provinces behind New Brunswick.

“We think it’s a very positive step in the right direction,” Finance Minister Scott Fielding said, noting the unemployment rate dropped to 10.1 per cent

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The numbers also show disparities: the employment rebound has been much lower for young people and low-wage earners across the country. Manitoba recorded the lowest youth unemployment rate in June, but it was still well above pre-pandemic normal at 19.3 per cent.

Fielding said the province may rejig some support programs for people who have lost work during the pandemic to target groups still lagging behind.

"If there's an ability to move some of those (currently allocated) dollars around, we'll absolutely want to do that to support Manitobans," Fielding said.

Manitoba has one of the lowest COVID-19 caseloads among the provinces. It has recorded 325 confirmed or probable cases since the pandemic started and, on Friday, marked 10 consecutive days without a new case. Seven people have died, 314 have recovered and four cases remained active.

The low numbers allowed the province to move fairly quickly to reopen businesses, in stages, through May and June. With restaurants and bars allowed to reopen, subject to some capacity limits, the accommodation and food services industries led the province's job growth.

The Opposition New Democrats said the Progressive Conservative government should not take credit for the job numbers, and that they are a natural result of the low COVID-19 case count.

The NDP also accused the government of making the situation worse by temporarily laying off some public-sector workers and forcing others to take unpaid days off in order to soften the pandemic's effect on Manitoba's finances.

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"Imagine if all those people didn't lose their jobs or didn't have their paycheques cut, we would be so much further as an economy," finance critic Mark Wasyliw said.

The provincial government initially predicted the pandemic would result in a $5-billion deficit this fiscal year, due to a combination of lower tax revenues and increased spending. It recently revised that to $2.9 billion, but cautioned the estimate could worsen if COVID-19 numbers rise again.

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