Barrie has gone from having the lowest unemployment rate in the country to the highest in just three months.

According to numbers released on Friday by Statistics Canada, Barrie’s jobless rate jumped nearly two per cent in March, hitting 8.8 per cent.

“We know there are good jobs here and when you get a number like this here it's discouraging,” says Barrie Mayor Jeff Lehman.

St. John’s, N.L. had the second highest rate at 8.6 per cent, followed by Calgary at 8.2 per cent.

“We just had a job fair where we had 90 companies that were hiring and the agencies that do this for a living are still telling us the hiring climate is very strong,” says Lehman.

Barrie had the third highest unemployment rate in Canada in February at 6.9 per cent. In January, the jobless rate was only 4.8 per cent and in December, Barrie had the lowest unemployment rate in the country at 3.4 per cent.

Barrie's Chamber of Commerce can't say for sure how this rapid job loss happened, but believes the minimum wage increase might've had a pre-emptive effect.

“I think there’s a small sample size at work here. We have seen some hiccups because of the Bill 148 rollout,” says Richard Brooks, executive director for the chamber. “It seems to me that it could be a blip in the radar. I think Barrie is probably one of the best places to do business in Ontario.”

MPP Ann Hoggarth believes the closure of Sears and Transcom likely contributed to the increase.

“Certainly some large businesses like Sears and the Transcom call centre closing were a blow to employment, but the fact remains that across the city, employers are looking for help at all skill levels,” Hoggarth said in a statement.

Barrie’s unemployment spike is a stark contrast to the rest of the country. In fact, the national unemployment rate stayed at a record low of 5.8 per cent.

The March gains were driven by a surge in full-time work. The labour-market survey showed the workforce added 68,300 full-time positions, while the number of part-time jobs decreased by 35,900.

However, the data also reveal that 19,600 of the new employee positions were created in the public sector. By comparison, the number of private-sector workers declined by 7,000.

Average hourly wage growth, which has been under close scrutiny by the Bank of Canada ahead of interest-rate decisions, strengthened in March to 3.3 per cent, up from 3.1 per cent the previous month.

The central bank, which will make its next rate announcement later this month, has repeatedly highlighted wage growth as a key indicator. Wage growth has been moving upwards since it bottomed out at 0.5 per cent in April 2017.

Central Canada saw the biggest job gains in March as the two largest provinces -- Ontario and Quebec -- each added more than 10,000 net new positions.

Quebec gained 16,000 net new jobs, including 28,600 full-time positions, while Ontario added 10,600 net new jobs, including 16,300 full-time positions.

For Ontario, however, the gain only represented a 0.1 per cent increase compared to the previous month. Quebec saw growth of 0.4 per cent.

By percentage, Saskatchewan and Alberta each saw solid monthly growth. Saskatchewan's labour force expanded 0.7 per cent, while Alberta's grew 0.4 per cent.

The youth unemployment rate dipped last month to 10.9 per cent, down from 11.1 per cent in February, following a net gain of 17,700 new jobs.

By industry, goods-producing sectors added 21,700 positions, mostly in construction. Services sectors created 10,600 jobs, with the bulk of the increase coming from new positions in public administration.

Compared with 12 months earlier, the national workforce grew 1.6 per cent following the creation of 296,200 jobs -- with the entire increase fuelled by 335,200 new full-time positions.

But the latest numbers still suggest there are signs that Canada's red-hot labour market could be starting to cool down, as widely expected.

Statistics Canada said employment declined by about 40,000 jobs over the first three months of 2018 for a decline of 0.2 per cent.

With files from The Canadian Press.