By Herb Dickieson (guest opinion)
Statistics Canada’s April employment figures revealed 29,000 jobs lost — information that will come as no surprise to the hundreds of thousands of Canadians looking for work. Worse, the majority of losses came from full-time jobs, which shrank by 30,900 positions. According to Stats Can, there’s been little overall employment growth in Canada since August 2013, and the participation rate — the percentage of adults looking for work — has now dropped to 66.1 per cent, the lowest level since 2001.
A recent Bank of Canada study says the jobs recovery has been overstated. Canadians have been given the impression by employment minister Jason Kenney that thousands of jobs go unfilled because no one in this country has the skills to fill them. The Parliamentary Budget Officer said the large difference can be explained almost entirely through the Harper government’s manipulative use of Kijiji data, which inflates job numbers because the site posts the same jobs multiple times, in different categories.
The government used the Kijiji jobs data in its most recent omnibus budget, concluding that Canada had a four per cent job vacancy rate. That’s a much higher rate than the 1.3 percent vacancy rate reported by Stats Can, but the inflated job vacancy numbers better suited the Harper government as a means to polish its tarnished image and further justify the controversial temporary foreign worker program.
Unfortunately, the problem goes way beyond temporary foreign workers, and it’s a data problem of the government’s own making. The Stephen Harper government has cut funds from important labour market research, slashed Statistics Canada’s budget by half, and scrapped the mandatory long form census in favour of a less-accurate voluntary survey that the auditor general of Canada recently said cost taxpayers $22 million more than the long-form census it replaced — while producing far less reliable data and a much lower response rate.
According to a global report on governance released by the internationally respected Bertelsmann Foundation, the Harper government has demonstrated “a lack of commitment” to evidence-based decision-making and producing high-quality data.
CIBC World Markets economist Benjamin Tal noted in a recent report that missing government data about the housing market, including how much equity Canadians have in their homes and foreign investment in the condo market, could cause regulators and investors to make bad decisions, while key data users in a recent Treasury Board survey complained that one giant database, the long-form census, has entirely disappeared.
The Harper government’s intentional quashing of necessary research and the evidence derived from it is slowly creating a knowledge gap in Canada that is already affecting policy decisions on everything from education and health care to tax rates and housing. Mr. Harper’s intentionally short-sighted elimination of the long-form census and the lack of proper jobs data, for instance, may lead to further abuses of the temporary foreign workers’ program while depriving provincial, territorial and municipal governments, business associations, private industry, police forces, farm organizations, researchers, academics and a myriad of other users the information they need for adequate planning, reporting and service delivery.
If the Harper government is allowed to continue down this path for another four years, future historians may not be able to conclude much about Canada in the early 21st century, except that it was governed by ideologues that dismissed the value of research and evidence and demonstrated little regard for opinion that didn’t conform to their own.
Dr. Herb Dickieson is a family physician practicing in Prince County and is a former member of the Legislative Assembly of Prince Edward Island