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By Leah Schnurr
OTTAWA, March 10 (Reuters) - Canada added more jobs than anticipated in February, driven by a hefty gain in full-time employment that eased concerns about deteriorating job quality and reduced the likelihood the Bank of Canada would cut interest rates again in the near-term.
Friday's report from Statistics Canada extended a recent strong run for the labor market and reinforced expectations the economy had turned a corner two years after growth was hit by lower oil prices.
Employers added 15,300 jobs last month, topping expectations for 2,500 as full-time hiring jumped by 105,100, the biggest increase since May 2006.
"The good times keep on rolling for the Canadian labor market," said Nick Exarhos, economist at CIBC Capital Markets, adding that the full-time gains suggested employment quality was firmer.
Part-time work dropped by 89,800 positions, giving back some of the increase seen in 2016. The service sector continued to be a source of strength with 30,100 new jobs.
A decline in the number of people looking for work sent the unemployment rate down to 6.6 percent, which tied with January 2015 for the lowest rate since October 2008, as the global financial crisis hit.
The Canadian dollar strengthened against the greenback on the data.
Economists said Friday's report was unlikely to alter the Bank of Canada's dovish stance, though it lowered the risk of a rate cut.
"Going into the jobs report, we were thinking somewhere in the range of a 20 percent chance (of a cut) over the next six months," said Robert Both, macro strategist at TD Securities. "It definitely does reduce those odds somewhat."
In its policy statement earlier this month, the bank pointed again to persistent slack in the labor market and left interest rates unchanged at 0.50 percent.
Stefane Marion, chief economist and strategist at National Bank of Canada, said he thought that story was running its course.
But with wage growth muted and hours worked declining on the year in February, others said the bank would continue to point to the weaker underlying details.
Average hourly wages for permanent employees rose 1.1 percent from a year ago, a slightly stronger rate than January's 1.0 percent annual pace. Average weekly hours worked decreased to 35.7 from 35.9 last year.
Additional reporting by Fergal Smith, Matt Scuffham, John Tilak and Alastair Sharp in Toronto; Editing by Andrea Ricci and Andrew Hay