As experts' calls for better labour market data grow louder, the Harper government appears to be going in the opposite direction.
The Tories are still shaking off the ridicule they underwent for using Kijiji job ads to determine the health of Canada's labour market. Now, newly released documents indicate the government is cutting spending on job market data.
According to an internal memo obtained by the Globe and Mail, Employment Minister Jason Kenney's department saw its budget for “Learning and Labour Market Information” shrink to $66.9-million in the 2013-14 fiscal year, from $84.9-million two years earlier. That represents a more than 20-per-cent reduction.
The news is likely to stoke claims by critics of the government that Prime Minister Stephen Harper is turning his back on evidence-based policymaking. Critics argue the Tories are harming Canada’s ability to collect economic data — an accusation that came up in 2009, when the Tories cancelled the national census, replacing it with a less accurate household survey.
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There hasn't been much in the way of good news in Canada's labour market reports recently. Over the past year, only Alberta has produced any significant number of jobs, while six of 10 provinces, including all those east of Ontario, have seen declines in job numbers.
Experts are growing increasingly concerned that Canada’s job-market data is not detailed enough for officials to set appropriate policies.
For instance, in the temporary foreign worker debate, many businesses in certain areas say they are facing severe labour shortages, even though the overall data shows little evidence that the economy is experiencing a labour shortage.
StatsCan’s labour force survey breaks down numbers by province, but not by region, making it impossible to identify localized labour shortages, said a report last month from Canada’s auditor-general.
A StatsCan spokesperson said breaking down the numbers regionally would cost “well over” $5 million, money the agency doesn’t have.
“We’ve had dramatic changes in policy with the temporary foreign worker program and the Canada Job Grant, while we’re undermining the lousy information infrastructure we already had,” former TD Bank economist Don Drummond told the Globe and Mail.
Drummond issued a report Wednesday for the Institute for Research On Public Policy arguing that StatsCan should set up a separate agency specifically to collect labour market data — similar to the Bureau of Labor Statistics in the U.S.
“Confusion over the actual labour market conditions continues in good part because no entity has stepped forward to take charge” of labour market data, Drummond said in a statement.
“With relatively modest effort, Canada could have one of the best [labour market data] systems in the world and, as a result, a better functioning labour market. This would lower unemployment and raise people’s incomes and well-being.”