On the surface, Canada’s labour market has made a complete comeback (new window) since losing nearly three million jobs at the start of the pandemic, but dig a little deeper, and you’ll see that the recovery hasn’t been for everyone, including self-employed Canadians.
Self-employment in Canada had been growing steadily for several years, but over the course of the pandemic, it fell to its lowest level in more than a decade. There were nearly 2.9 million self-employed Canadians in February 2020. Now, there are just over 2.6 million.
Some of the losses in self-employment have been made up by gains in paid employment in the same industries, according to Statistics Canada. Those include professional, scientific and technical services.
But in other industries, such as agriculture, construction and services, including personal care, declines in self-employment haven’t been offset.
Richard Dias, founder and head of research at Acorn Macro Consulting in Halifax, blames the drop on government pandemic policies that weren’t tailored to support the success of Canada’s self-employed. These policies include blanket business closures and capacity restrictions, complicated applications for financial support and PPE requirements. It favoured giant corporates, who obviously are structured much, much better to navigate difficult situations … versus the humble shopkeeper, said Dias.
Statistics Canada breaks self-employment into several categories, including people who own an incorporated or unincorporated business, farm or professional practice, or those without a business, such as newspaper carriers or babysitters. Most self-employed Canadians are a business-of-one, but about one-third employ other people.
Dias is also worried about those self-employed Canadians who stretched themselves financially to survive the pandemic.