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Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail

The Canadian economy created a better-than-expected 20,900 jobs last month amid large gains in full-time work.

The jobless rate fell to a 10-month low of 8.2 per cent in February from 8.3 per cent, Statistics Canada said Friday.

The Canadian dollar rocketed to a 20-month high as the report showed job gains in five of the last seven months - evidence that the labour market is slowly recovering. Employment has been climbing since July, with 159,000 new jobs created in the past seven months. It's a sharp contrast from the drop of 417,000 between the labour market peak in October 2008 and July 2009.

Yet some details last month were somewhat softer. The private sector shed jobs as the public sector created work. And half the full-time job gains were in British Columbia, which hired some people on a temporary basis due to the Olympics.

"There was an Olympic influence in the report, though we don't think it had an Olympic-size impact," said Ian Pollick, economics strategist at TD Securities. "The bottom line is that this is another favourable Canadian employment report."

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty called the report "encouraging." He said feedback he's hearing from businesses lately has been "fairly positive" though not "ecstatic."

Full-time work jumped 60,200, outweighing a 39,300 drop in part-time positions.

British Columbia accounted for half of last month's full-time hires, adding 33,000 full-time workers.

The province created 6,000 positions in food and accommodation, which likely stems from the Olympics, but it also added positions in health care and public administration.

"It looks like Olympic hiring in accommodation and food services, but you are seeing broader increases in other industries at the same time," said Statscan economist Danielle Zietsma.

Men aged 55 and over accounted for all of February's employment gain. Most of gains among men were in Quebec, Ontario and Nova Scotia. The jobless rate among older men fell to 7.1 per cent from 7.7 per cent and was little changed for older women, with their jobless rate staying at 5.7 per cent.

The jobs gain was "very encouraging to see, particularly for experienced workers," said Jim Geraghty, president of Happen, which helps unemployed mid-level to senior managers and executives tap into the hidden job market. "However, we've noticed that while people have been landing jobs, whether full-time or on contract, they tend to be earning less than they did previously."

A recent survey of its members showed almost a third were earning 25 per cent less in their new position.

In one worrying sign, the private sector was still reluctant to hire. Private sector positions fell by 7,500 last month while employment in the public sector rose 45,600.

"One small quibble was that the job gains relied quite heavily on the public sector, and we know that train can't continue much longer," BMO deputy chief economist Douglas Porter said.

Alberta was the only province with a notable employment drop last month, where 15,000 job losses pushed the jobless rate to 6.9 per cent from 6.6 per cent. Employment in trade and education fell. It's the second month in a row of employment declines.

Alberta was the only province with a notable employment drop, where 15,000 job losses pushed the jobless rate to 6.9 per cent from 6.6 per cent. Employment in trade and education fell. It's the second month in a row of employment declines.

Employment gains last month were in accommodation and food services; business, building and other support services; manufacturing; health care and social assistance; and natural resources.

Losses were in retail and wholesale trade; finance, insurance, real estate and leasing; and other services.

Compared with last summer, the number of public and private sector employees has risen, while self-employment has fallen, Statscan said. And employment growth has been all in full-time work.

"We expect the unemployment rate to remain elevated near term," although sustained economic growth will eventually bring it down in the second half of the year, said Nathan Janzen, economist at Royal Bank of Canada in a note. He expects the central bank will, in turn, start raising rates this summer, with the key lending rate hitting 1.25 per cent by year's end from a record low of 0.25 per cent currently.

Economists polled by Bloomberg had expected 15,500 new jobs with the unemployment rate holding steady.

The Canadian dollar strengthened to 98.30 cents, its highest level since July, 2008, from Thursday's close of 97.63 cents.

Wages are climbing. Average hourly wages rose to 2.4 per cent from a year ago, accelerating from last month's 1.8-per-cent year-over-year gain.

And employers are boosting hours of their workers. Hours worked rose 0.2 per cent in February, the third gain in a row.

Major sectors hiring last month:

Food and accommodation: 26,500 jobs

Business, building and support services: 18,400 jobs

Manufacturing: 16,900 jobs

Health care and social assistance: 15,800 jobs

Natural resources: 10,600 jobs

Transportation and warehousing: 9,700 jobs

With a file from Canadian Press.

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