CALGARY -- Statistics Canada says Calgary's unemployment rate rose to 8.6 per cent with over 17,000 Calgarians losing their jobs in March.

Calgary's unemployment increase was the second-highest among Canadian cities, trailing Windsor, Ontario 's 10.5 per cent.

Provincially, Alberta's unemployment rate jumped by 1.5 per cent from last month, rising to 8.7 per cent, the fourth-highest in the country and highest among all but the Atlantic provinces.

“We need to understand this is just the beginning,” said Premier Jason Kenney.

Job losses increased as the COVID-19 pandemic took over the planet in mid-March.

The province saw 117,000 people lose their jobs, or a five per cent fall in employment. More than 21,000 of those were in Edmonton, bringing its unemployment rate to 7.9 per cent, fourth-highest in the country behind Windsor, Calgary and St. John's.

Worse times ahead

Kenney warned Albertans to expect things to get worse before they get better.

“I anticipate much more challenging figures at the end of April heading into the spring,” Kenney said.

Across the country, over one million Canadian jobs were lost, with the hardest hit industries being food services, recreation and education.

Calgary’s Board of Education said 1,900 part and full-time staff were handed temporary layoffs Thursday, blaming the province for a $21 million shortfall in its budget.

Alberta saw a 27.9 per cent decrease of employment in the food service industry, leaving one restaurant execute predicting more trouble ahead.

“I feel that we’re looking at 30 to 50 per cent of restaurants closing after this,” said Dustin Makarenko, general manager of Chairman’s Steakhouse.

Makarenko says his team of nearly 50 employees were all laid off.

“We can’t bring back people to work, because there is no work,” said Makarenko.

“Everybody’s been temporarily laid off with the goal that this is a three month to four month process and then we can all get back to work,” he added.

Economist Trevor Tombe believes the latest numbers are the windfall from a spiralling economy before the coronavirus outbreak.

“(Prior to COVID-19), we were teetering on the edge of a second recession and almost certainly the recovery was stalled throughout,” said Tombe.

Kenney admitted earlier this week, that unemployment could reach as high as 25 per cent in the province, a figure Tombe said was plausible.

“It’s entirely within the realm of possibility," Tombe said,  "just because of the sectors that are being affected."

Underestimated the numbers

The Business Council of Alberta says today’s numbers don’t paint a realistic picture of what is actually happening in the province, describing the situation as much worse.

“A reported unemployment rate of 8.7 per cent seriously underestimates the reality in Alberta because the labour force survey took place just as the economy was shutting down,” said Mike Holden, Chief Economist at the Business Council of Alberta.

“Based on all the data we’ve seen this week, our estimates indicate the true unemployment rate in Alberta today is likely three times that – a staggering 27 per cent.”

The Conference Board of Canada estimate more than 26,000 energy-related jobs will be lost over March and April due to both the COVID-19 pandemic and a crash in world oil prices.

The national unemployment rate climbed to 7.8 per cent, up  2.2 percentage points since February.