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




A new Bank of Canada report says Canada's jobs recovery is less robust than has been thought. Why do we seem to have such trouble keeping accurate statistics on jobs and unemployment?

 

Marit Stiles:

Well, the Bank of Canada has released a paper saying the country's job-creation record since the recession isn't quite as rosy as some would have us believe. And they are urging policy makers (hear that, Mr. Harper!) to look at a broader range of employment indicators if they want a more realistic read on the health of our labour market.

This is something that progressive economists and the NDP have been saying for some time. If you scratch the surface of the 'facts' the Conservative government relies on, you'll find that long-term unemployment has NOT improved since the depths of the recession. According to the Chamber of Commerce, 95% of all new jobs in 2013 were part-time.

And the Bank of Canada report shows that the percentage of the labour force considered "long-term unemployed" doubled to 20 per cent in 2011. Many of those workers are dropping out of the job market all together.

How do we fix this? The government needs to stop citing figures that suit their communications strategy, and start paying attention to the real and changing barriers to employment in our country.

And maybe we could start with undoing some of the cuts that the Conservatives have made to Stats Canada, for example gutting the Survey of Labour and Income Dynamics ... how can we make solid, smart policy decisions to address the job loss crisis in our country without solid, smart data on which to build.

 

John Capobianco:

Looks like the digital age is now starting to take hold in the reporting of jobs numbers... and the federal government is catching up.

It must be said that the reporting of the unemployment rate is never an exact science and all governments at all levels take these numbers like someone who has a cold taking Buckley's - with a lot of wincing.

Of course the government wants to report that jobs and opportunities are increasing, therefore having an eventual effect of lowering the number of unemployed. In this case, or apparently over some time - the Parliamentary Budget office finally discovered that the rise in job postings was almost entirely the result of a rise on postings to the Kijiji site - who knew? This after the software they have is supposed to check online job boards.

I think this exposure will fix the way we look at job opportunities/postings.

We all want job openings to be filled so that we can have as many unemployed back in the job market. This federal government has been creating opportunities and fixing our economy since they got into power despite bleak economic forecasts and I know they will continue to make jobs and the economy their number one priority.

 

Richard Mahoney:

I guess our first advice to the government of Canada should be to take a very serious look at this solid piece of research from the Bank of Canada.

This research is important for a number of reasons. First, it tells us that the economic recovery is not as advanced as the Harper government would have us believe - mostly because of "long term unemployed" who "drop out" of the labour market.

This means that these folks are not tracked as unemployed because they have stopped actively looking for work, and therefore are not measured or counted in published unemployment statistics.

As John points out, every government tries to trot out economic good news, as proof of their economic management skills. And no government in Canadian history has done this more diligently than the Harper Conservatives. You ask them about robocalls? They say, I want to talk about the economy.

This study shows, as Marit suggests, that we are leaving thousands of Canadians out of the loop. That the government was relying on Kajiji statistics, instead of serious work by agencies such as StatsCan or the Bank of Canada tells us how seriously we should take this government's claims of economic prowess and progress.

It also underlines a core challenge to the Canadian economy: for many, things are not getting better. For many, the opportunities for success are not there as they once were. And Mr Harper telling us that "everything is fine, no worries here" is a sorry excuse for economic leadership.

 

Marit Stiles:

First, to John's point, it's true that things have changed and that government has to catch up. I guess I just question the will that exists to do so, when the sound bite just ain't so perfect sounding anymore.

To Richard's point, it's not as if this government is all that different from any previous government in trying to spin their message. But this report is going to make it a lot more difficult for them to keep spinning AWAY from some important new realities in our labour market.

What's clear is that the government has been using 'make believe' stats, from Kijiji or wherever. Meanwhile, the Conservatives have implemented drastic cuts at Statistics Canada, slashing nearly 20% of it's workforce in the last two years and cutting its budget by 30%, according to last year's public accounts.

The NDP have done a great job of opposing these cuts. And for good reason.

As someone who has to work with labour data quite often, I can attest to the difficulty in getting jobs data that truly reflect the diversity of our workforce, the unemployed, the precariously employed, the temporarily employed, the self-employed.

That was something Statistics Canada was just starting to get a handle on. Now what? Here we are faced with a complicated Temporary Foreign Worker Program that has been completely bungled and mismanaged by this government, and no wonder. They are relying on employers to tell them they can't find workers to fill jobs, instead of looking at the real figures and developing a plan to address the deeper issues of unemployment, precarity, etc.

If anything good comes from this report, let's hope that the Conservative government drops its make believe stats and admits that the jobs they have created are overwhelmingly part-time, precarious and of poor quality.

 

John Capobianco:

I am with both Marit and Richard regarding the need for better, clearer and generally accepted practice of reporting job numbers. Knowing how many Canadians are unemployed and still looking for work is important information.

It is in part a measure of the economy, but it doesn't take into account the full picture of the economic outlook. Richard will have you believe that this government is purposely trying to spin or skew the numbers when it comes to the unemployment rate ... nothing could be farther from the truth.

Yes, they would want every Canadian able to work to find a job - any government would. However, Stats Canada and other think tanks, including the media will always ensure that all the data coming from any government is checked for accuracy - this is good.

This government has a stellar record on economic issues despite what Richard may say (remember when the Liberal governments used to underplay the budget surplus only to report greater surpluses in their budgets?)

I am glad of the findings of this report. It will change the way this government and future governments look at job numbers and, more importantly, it will make us all focus on the need to ensure we continue to have a strong economy and get as many Canadians working again.

 

Richard Mahoney:

It is amusing to hear the Harper Conservatives talk about how many jobs they have created. They should know better. Governments do create jobs directly, by hiring people in the public service, by spending on projects in transit, roads and infrastructure, and by partnering with businesses to attract investment here. But most jobs are created by the private sector.

Governments can help, by creating conditions that make our country an attractive place to live, to work and a good place to invest. They can, as Marit ably points out, provide research and data that help us understand what is happening in the labour force so we can design policies that will be helpful.

But for the Harper Government to claim credit for creating all these jobs is ludicrous. You would think a true conservative would recognize that. And, if they are responsible for everything our economy creates, then they are responsible for all of its shortfalls, by inference. So these people who are now the “long term unemployed"? That is Stephen Harper’s fault, by his own logic.

And for Mr. Harper to tell Canadians they have never had it so good, that there are lots of great middle class jobs for everyone, is insensitive towards many who are  economic challenge in front of us: building a society with more equality of opportunity, with quality jobs for this generation and the next.

Every major economy in the world faces this challenge. The Bank of Canada report is a useful piece of research that policy makers should heed. It tells us more about what is really happening out there. Let’s hope that our governments and businesses look at this data, and find ways to meet those challenges, rather than focusing on just telling us how great things are.

 

About The Salon

Richard Mahoney is a former Liberal advisor to Rt. Hon. Paul Martin; Marit Stiles is a federal and Ontario NDP strategist; and John Capobianco is a former CPC candidate and long-time party activist in both the federal and Ontario Conservative parties
Posted date : May 14, 2014

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