Ontario led the nation in job losses last month, accounting for 35,000 jobs lost and pushing the province's unemployment rate for February up to 8.7 per cent -- a 12-year high.

The national rate in February was 7.7 per cent.

Analysts had expected national job loss numbers of just over 50,000. Instead, the numbers were much worse, with 82,600 jobs shed in February.

Ontario appears to be leading the way downward.

"Since last October, the province's unemployment rate has risen by two percentage points, with increases concentrated in southwestern Ontario," Statistics Canada said in a report released Friday.

The provincial unemployment rate rose from 8.0 per cent in January. The February figure was last reached in April 1997.

Most of Ontario's job losses came in the following areas:

  • construction
  • finance
  • insurance
  • real estate
  • leasing

"Since last October, just over half of the country's total employment losses have occurred in Ontario, well beyond the province's 39 per cent share of the total working-age population," Statistics Canada said.

"Employment in the province fell by 160,000 during this period, with the largest decreases in manufacturing; business, building and other support services; and construction."

Since October, the Canadian economy has lost almost 300,000 jobs.

The province actually lost 55,900 full-time jobs, but that was offset by gains of 20,600 in part-time work. Statistics Canada defines a full-time job as something involving 30 hours or more work per week.

The province's population also grew slightly, as did the labour force, which helped push up the employment rate.

Here are the jobless rates for some selected Ontario cities (the previous month's rate is in brackets). Bear in mind that sampling errors are higher for individual communities:

  • Toronto - 8.3 per cent (7.8)
  • Hamilton - 8.4 (8.0)
  • Kitchener - 9.1 (8.4)
  • London - 8.4 (7.8)
  • Oshawa, Ont. - 8.2 (8.0)
  • St. Catharines-Niagara - 9.5 (8.8)
  • Windsor - 12.6 (10.9)
  • Ottawa - 4.6 (4.5)

At Queen's Park on Friday, new NDP Leader Andrea Horwath called the new numbers frightening and accused the Liberal government of doing nothing while jobs disappear.

The province will table its budget on March 26. It is in talks with the Big Three North American auto makers regarding a financial aid plan in conjunction with the federal government.

The federal government's budget just passed through Parliament. It contains tens of billions of dollars in stimulus spending, but the effects of that likely won't start being felt until late this year or possibly 2010.

Federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, Conservative MP for Whitby-Oshawa, told a Toronto radio station from England on Friday that he isn't surprised at the ongoing poor job numbers.

"The overall numbers are not going to be good for some time, even though they'll be better than they would have been because of the economic stimulus," he said. "But the reality is, we're going to have a difficult year."

The Liberal provincial government has suggested the province's deficit for this fiscal year and next will total $18 billion, in part because of stimulus spending and auto aid designed to fight unemployment.

With files from The Canadian Press