For once, the feds abandon Voodoo economics 



In a stunningly sensible – and, therefore, utterly unexpected – move for the federal government, the Department of Employment and Immigration has announced plans to restore the integrity of its jobs data, which have been about as reliable as a help wanted ad on a social media website.

One day after the Globe and Mail broke a story about an internal memo to Employment Minister Jason Kenney that practically bragged about all the money the department was saving by eschewing Statistics Canada’s pricey research services in favour of a private contractor’s scans of popular, online classified platforms, the red-faced cabinet member told the House of Commons, in effect, “um. . .never mind.”

To be precise, he said, “The government will be launching two significant, robust, new labour market information studies (by Statistics Canada). Of them, on will be a quarterly study on job vacancies and the other a robust annual survey on wage rates, just as experts have asked us to do.”

One of those experts is Don Drummond, a former chief economist at TD Bank who chaired the 2009 Advisory Panel on Labour Market Information and thinks that empirical evidence is not such a bad tool to deploy when crafting policy on something as crucially important to national well-being as employment.

Prior to the announcement yesterday, Mr. Drummond had a few choice words for a government that enjoys creating panels and striking task forces just as long as it doesn’t have to listen to them, especially when their findings are ideologically inconvenient. “Things are getting done in the opposite direction” he told the Globe. “Normally, you create an information infrastructure and that informs policy. But here we’ve had dramatic changes in policy with the temporary foreign worker program and the Canada Job Grant, while we are undermining the lousy information infrastructure we already have.”

It’s anyone’s guess what Mr. Kenney means when he refers to his new surveys as “robust” (not once, mind you, but twice). Surely, though, anything is better than counting the number of times Kijiji posts the same job to its listings, and calling that bone fide data. 

According to reports, the new job-vacancy survey is expected to cost about $8 million annually surveying 100,000 employers across the country, while the $6-million wage survey will followup with greater detail.

The investments will effectively restore the department’s total annual budget of around $81 million for “Learning and Labour Market Information” – a fact which still  didn’t stop NDP MP Nathan Cullen from observing, “They (the Conservative government) do make themselves ignorant purposefully.”

Regrettably, he has a point. This is not a political culture that tolerates dissent or criticism. In fact, it’s not a huge fan of facts when said facts contradict even a sliver of its worldview or run counter to its spending and program priorities.

Canada’s crime rate, particularly for violent offences, is at a 40-year ebb. 

So, naturally, logic dictates throwing more people in jail for longer and for lesser crimes. That’ll justify building more prisons and passing along at least some of the cost to the provinces if only to keep the federal account book nice and sanitary.

Oil and gas exploration and development is an inherently risky business, fraught with all manner of threats to soil, air and water. 

So, naturally, official policy stipulates fewer and easier environmental rules and regulations – not more and tougher ones – to lubricate the great, big job-generating machines out west (where, let’s face it kids, everybody in their right minds ought to work, live and play).

Climate change is real, or so says virtually every top scientist in the world. The cost of its economic depredations may be counted in the trillions of dollars on a planetary scale, possibly within as few as two generations.

So, naturally, as Prime Minister Harper recently emoted, no country in the world would sacrifice the short-term opportunity to get people working – in our case, due to Alberta’s oil sands – by imposing emission standards that are designed to avert a global catastrophe. 

After all, what’s the sense in worrying about the future, when the here and now is all we’ve ever cared about thanks to our what’s-for-lunch attention spans?

Still, we may now rest assured that the good folks over at Employment and Immigration have finally seen the light: Good data means good policy. Evidence is cool. Science is hot. 

Until, of course, the tea leaf lady darkens Ottawa’s doorstep once again. 


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