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THE SALON

The Salon is ONW's weekly gathering place where three of Canada's brightest and most respected political strategists - Rick Anderson, Andrew Jackson and Richard Mahoney - come together to analyze national issues affecting Ontario.



Rick Anderson:

Good day. Nice to governments that are responsive. It has been, what, barely three weeks since concerns escalated regarding the potential for misuse of the federal Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP). In record time, the feds have listened, heeded, and introduced changes designed to ensure the program works as intended: to provide employers with a method of temporarily employing foreign workers when faced with bona fide shortages of skilled Canadian workers.

 

Andrew Jackson:

Three weeks?! The review was announced months ago. What is passing strange is that close to one in three temporary workers are in Ontario, where we have a 7.7% unemployment rate, no overall labour shortage, and very, very few real skills shortages. If we need to import people to do some skilled jobs, let them come as regular immigrants.

 

Richard Mahoney:

By all accounts, there is a growing mismatch in Canada on the skills side. Certain employers report a shortage of skilled labour, and many Canadians face unemployment, particularly amongst certain demographics and in some parts of the country. A number of industries have long relied upon temporary workers to meet their needs. That is not new. What appears to be new is the misuse of the program and a lack of transparency about the changes the government has made, including changes announced yesterday.  

 

Rick Anderson:

Agree with Richard: there are plenty of locations in Canada, and plenty of skillsets, which suffer shortages. This is not fiction and if we forget that we will be making serious policy errors. Likewise, it is also important not to generalize about a national or provincial unemployment rate; these things tend to be quite specific to particular areas... Here in Ontario, you see a very wide range of unemployment levels, from about 6% in Guelph, Hamilton, Ottawa, and Thunder Bay to 9% in Windsor and 10% in Peterborough:

Unemployment rates in selected Canadian cities in March - Winnipeg Free Press:

http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/business/quicklist-unemployment-rates-in-selected-canadian-cities-in-march-201609611.html

This is not a one-size-fits-all policy problem, or solution. Which is why the program requires a demonstration of bona fide shortages.

 

Andrew Jackson:

The key question is why we would want to use the option of temporary foreign workers for even demonstrable skill shortages. The alternative is for wages to increase, which would signal workers to move, or to train, and would encourage employer investment in capital and skills to raise productivity. And, to repeat, if there is a serious shortage, why not recruit through a program which offers a path to landed immigrant status?  

 

Richard Mahoney:

Rick makes the right substantive arguments on why there is an issue here. And Andrew is right - for skilled permanent work, it makes sense to offer the path to permanent residency: good for Canada, good for the individual. But Jason Kenney's announcement this week was all politics, little substance. They announced “sweeping changes” to the TFWP. But it was mostly smoke and mirrors, designed to make it look like the Conservatives were taking action. For example, the government has announced it will now require that businesses show they have a plan to train Canadian workers, before being allowed to turn to TFWs. However businesses are already required to do this under the current program. So how is this any different from what already exists? How will public servants judge whether training or recruitment promises by employers are realistic or not? Will they just "rubber stamp" training programs as they have been for Labour Market Opinions (the TFWP application forms)? In the 2012 federal budget, the Conservatives announced $33.4 million in ongoing cuts to skills and employment program delivery, which includes the branch that administers the TFWP. How does the government plan to provide MORE oversight with LESS staff?

 

Rick Anderson:

On another big topic this week … the Ontario budget coming on Thursday. Will it have anything in it the government has not already leaked? $100 million for rural infrastructure (peanuts), a promised 15% reduction in automobile insurance (which the government doesn't control), tax hikes and youth jobs and other costly baubles from the NDP's shopping list aka blackmail... The only real mysteries in here are (a) why Premier Wynne thinks it’s better to cater to the NDP than to go to the voters with her own program; and (b) whether that will happen anyway.  

 

Andrew Jackson:

Last time I looked, provinces do regulate the insurance industry. And with sky high unemployment among Ontario youth is doing something about it really a "costly bauble?”  I think we badly need some kind of program that gives real job experience to the many, many young people taking extended stays in our post secondary educational system. Ontario youth unemployment - 16.5% last month.  

 

Richard Mahoney:

Rick's gentle partisan lurch here does obscure the ridiculous notion that Ontario PC leader Tim Hudak has promised to vote against a budget before he even sees it. He's so anxious to force another election, years before one is required by law. This shows he is acting only in his own political interest, rather than the public interest. Building an economy that provides a future for young Ontarians will be a key priority of this budget. Premier Wynne isn't leaking the budget in advance, as Rick suggests. She is being transparent - and announcing measures designed to help our economy grow, help people get the care they need in their homes, and help middle class Ontarians get by. That's responsible government, brought about by consultation.  

 

Rick Anderson:

Did Richard just say the Premier is NOT leaking the budget??? If you Google "Wynne budget" you get hundreds of returns; I could write the budget speech.

If only this was shaping up to be a "public interest" budget rather than a "political interest" budget. Great article here for those braying about youth unemployment being the worst ever, blah, blah:

“Were labour market conditions really better for the parents of today’s twentysomethings?” - Econowatch - Macleans.ca:

http://www2.macleans.ca/2012/10/27/were-labour-market-conditions-really-better-for-the-parents-of-todays-twentysomethings/

Newsflash: it's about the same as it's been for forty years; when students get out of school, it can takes a while for everyone to get that first job or two, and then it settles out... And, it's not as though various governments of various stripes haven't tried to change that for forty years. Anyway, for those seeking the real numbers driving the Liberals and NDP to wrap themselves in this budget - and avoid facing the voters - here they are: the PCs are leading by about three points:

ThreeHundredEight.com: Ontario:

http://www.threehundredeight.com/p/ontario.html

Big spending, here we come …

 

Andrew Jackson:

The tough Ontario reality is that Hudak has staked himself so firmly to the extreme right, so squarely in the Republican orbit, that the centre and the left are obliged to reach some accommodation. And I suspect they will do precisely that around the Budget.

 

Richard Mahoney:

It's impossible to know, and difficult to guess, whether Andrea Horwath and the NDP will support the budget. What we do know is this: even before the budget is delivered, all of the policy "asks" contained in Ms. Horwath's letter to the Premier have been met. In many cases, where the Liberal government thought it was warranted, additional measures above and beyond what the NDP asked for have been announced. So if she defeats the government and forces an election, it won't be because the Wynne government hasn’t met the policy challenges Ms. Horwath requested. It will be because she thinks she will benefit from an early election:

http://ontariondp.com/en/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/13-02-06-Letter-to-Wynne.pdf

 

Andrew Jackson:

We should recall that the NDP in Ontario would never have won under Bob Rae if it had not been for the previous “Accord” with the Liberals. Accommodation strengthens NDP credibility, and gives Wynne some time to reposition.

 

Rick Anderson:

Well, that's reassuring. The Liberals are going to do everything the NDP wants. And more.


Andrew Jackson:

Or maybe they found where there is some common ground?


You can follow The Salon's strategists on Twitter:

Rick Anderson: @RickAnderson

Andrew Jackson: @Andrew_aJackson

Richard Mahoney: @RicMahoney

About The Salon

Rick Anderson is former senior adviser to Reform Party Opposition leader Preston Manning; Jim Stanford in an economist for Unifor; and Richard Mahoney, former Liberal advisor to Rt. Hon. Paul Martin.
Posted date : May 01, 2013

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