Roach, Myers attack each other using same figures

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Interim Opposition Leader Stephen Myers speaks to reporters after the budget speech.

Employment numbers from Statistics Canada provide ammo to reach different conclusions

It’s interesting to see how employment figures from the same source can be interpreted to reach two entirely different conclusions. Wordsmiths Allen Roach and Steven Myers managed to do just that Wednesday in the P.E.I. legislature.

 Mr. Roach, the provincial minister of innovation, was under attack by Opposition Leader Myers for the government’s job creation record. The set of figures used by Mr. Myers suggest that for every one available job on P.E.I., there were 20 Islanders looking for work. That, Mr. Myers trumpeted, is proof that the government’s job creation strategy is ineffectual when Statistics Canada data shows P.E.I. has the highest job vacancy ratio in the country.

But Mr. Roach had his own set of figures from Stats Can, showing P.E.I. was third in employment growth in the country last year behind Alberta and Saskatchewan.

The minister noted that in 2013, the province had the highest number of people working full time in its history, and was one of the leaders in population growth in the country. Mr. Roach suggests there were 1,250 new jobs created last year and if those figures are all correct, then the province is doing a great job with employment creation.

Both gentlemen agree that P.E.I. saw a net loss of close to 1,100 Islanders to other provinces in 2012-13, the largest flight of Islanders to outmigration in 30 years.

If those 1,100 Islanders hadn’t left, would perhaps 22 Islanders be looking for every job? So we are seeing record employment numbers combined with record numbers leaving to find work. How is this possible?

Roach blamed P.E.I.’s outmigration numbers on a favourite target — the federal government’s controversial employment insurance changes. So the debate ended by Mr. Myers blaming the province and Mr. Roach blaming Ottawa — as usual.

There is a flaw in both their arguments. For example, Mr. Myers is quoted as saying "If you went out and created jobs, there would be jobs for people to apply to again, there wouldn’t be 20 people applying for each job because they’d have a job.” Mr. Roach is quoted as saying, “This government is doing a great job of creating employment in Prince Edward Island, and if we didn’t have to constantly fight against the policies of the federal government, we’d be doing a lot better.”

Government doesn’t create jobs or employment — it helps create a favourable climate for businesses to move here, to expand production or to hire back more employees. That’s called a job creation strategy. The only way government directly creates jobs is to expand the public service and that’s not going to happen in these tough times.

Labour has expressed relief the province didn’t slash public sector jobs to help reach a balanced budget. But it should be noted that many civil service positions are being lost through attrition and are not being filled, so the level of service to Islanders is falling.

 In its response to the budget this week, the Greater Charlottetown Area Chamber of Commerce suggested that an effective job creation strategy and increased business opportunities are among the key elements to spark economic growth. That in turn will help Finance Minister Wes Sheridan achieve his ambitious economic growth projections over the next two years and go a long way to balancing the budget.

The important figure amid all the numbers being tossed back and forth is that P.E.I.’s unemployment rate figure is 11.5 per cent, the second-highest in the country after Newfoundland’s 11.8 per cent. Nationally, the unemployment rate shank to 6.9 per cent in March. So the province has a lot of work to do on the economic front.

Organizations: Statistics Canada, Greater Charlottetown Area Chamber of Commerce

Geographic location: Prince Edward Island, Alberta, Saskatchewan Ottawa Newfoundland

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