Tag Archives: Jason Kenney

Balancing the federal budget or bust


As the we wake up to the nauseating certainty that the Conservative government of Canada finds itself with its shorts down around its ankles, we might properly wonder what all that official, post-Great Recession palaver about economic stewardship and sound fiscal planning actually produced.

Plummeting oil prices – always considered a possible, if not likely, eventuality a year ago by those who actually pay attention to markets – have sent once-mighty prognosticators in high office scurrying like so many scared bunnies into a brier patch (as the oil patch, don’t you know, has become suddenly inhospitable for political animals of every stripe and species).

In fact, Finance Minister Joe Oliver is so shakent, he’s taking the unusual, if not altogether unprecedented, step of delaying the federal budget until “at least” April – all the better, presumably, to gauge the impact on federal coffers of lower dividends oil producers pay to the people of Canada in return for the economic license we have apparently granted to them.

Given that most experts now predict that volatility in the oil and gas sector will remain the new normal for some time (perhaps, as many as three years), it’s hard to cotton what Mr. Oliver’s finance department mavens are divining as they buy themselves a month to chew what’s left of their nails to the nubs.

Really? Why not make it two or even six, for all the good it will do.

The energy roller coaster now makes balancing the federal budget in any meaningful or sustainable way virtually impossible – so dependent on revenues from fossil-fuel production are government coffers; as are, in fact, increasingly broad swathes of the rest of the economy.

In 2013, according to Natural Resources Canada (NRC), the oil and gas sector generated $133 billion in gross domestic product (about 7.5 per cent of the national total) in his country. It employed 190,000 people, or about 1.1 per cent of the working, adult population, even as it accounted for $83 billion, or 21 per cent, of total capital expenditures in Canada.

Again, says an NRC bulletin, “Federal and provincial/territorial (P/T) governments in Canada receive direct revenues from energy industries related to corporate income taxes, indirect taxes (such as sales and payroll taxes), crown royalties (which are the share of the value of oil and gas extracted that is paid to the Crown as the resource

owner) crown land sales, (which are paid to the Crown in order to acquire the resource rights for specific properties.”

Moreover, “the largest share of government revenues is collected from the oil and gas industry, which averaged $23.3 billion over the last five years, including $20.7 billion from upstream oil and gas extraction and its support activities. Between 2008 and 2012, the energy industries’ share of total taxes paid (11.9 per cent) was in line with their share of total operating revenues (13.6 per cent).

So, when the price of oil takes a hit, so do we all in this country – at least, fiscally. That’s almost as immutable a law of nature as gravity or, more appropriately, the handwringing and teeth-gnashing of high-profile politicians determined to keep their promises – fool-hardy though they may be – come what may.

“The Conservative government is warning for the first time that falling oil prices could trigger new spending cuts in order to deliver on a promised balanced budget,” Bill Curry writes in the Globe and Mail this week. “On the heels of the surprise decision to delay the federal budget until at least April, the government is putting Canadians on notice that it is prepared to cut spending further rather than abandon its goal of balancing the books.”

It’s a challenge that Jason Kenney, federal employment minister, insisted in broadcast interviews last weekend could be met with “additional fiscal restraint.”  After all, he said, balancing the budget is a commitment we made to Canadians in the last election.”

It does, however, seem broadly nonsensical – and even amateurish, from a money manager’s perspective – to manufacture more austerity just to be able to show a book entry in black ink, fleeting though it may be.

Canadians want their government’s books in fine balance, yes – but not at the expense of programs that do more good for the economy than does a technical surplus the durability of which ultimately hinges on volatile forces beyond any one pledge-making politician’s ability to control.

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How Ottawa minds our own business


What are these posts for? Shut up, government says, sit on 'em

What are these posts for? Shut up, government says, sit on ’em

What do 33 dejected foreign workers, denied positions in New Brunswick, and low blood sugar have in common?

If you said it’s the bevy of busybodies beavering away to make a general nuisance of itself in Ottawa – otherwise known as the Government of Canada – give yourself a pat on the back. But stay away from the sweets.

Apparently inspired by a Globe and Mail investigation earlier this year, Harpertown is all set to poke its proboscis into the pantries of the nation.

“In recent months, the Globe and Mail documented the links between sugar and harmful health concerns, and called on the federal government to set a recommended daily sugar limit,” the newspaper reported, in one of the most pompous displays of self-serving grandiosity it has been this ex-staffer’s pleasure to witness, earlier this week. 

“Our reporting revealed the extent to which the food industry adds sugar to many products in various forms, the extent to which labelling requirements don’t sufficiently inform consumers about this practice and the broad range of health problems that stem from the amount of sugar in the daily diet.”

Now, galvanized by this magnificent example of public service journalism, we are asked to believe that Ottawa is about to require food producers to finally play it straight with Canadians and tell the truth about the degree to which they are poisoning the general populace. 

Accurate labelling, it seems, is the answer. So is a federally-sanctioned “recommendation” for the amount of sugar Canadians should consume in any given 24-hour period.

Bully for the federalistas, but methinks the chances that this famously recalcitrant crew of onetime reformers and oftentimes media mashers takes its marching orders from Canada’s self-appointed, self-important, “national newspaper” are perishingly small. 

The more likely explanation (which may be weirder still) is that despite its right-wing, small-government, anti-Liberal, nanny-state-hating political pedigree this particular crew of Tory MPs and their fellow-travelling bureaucrats just can’t resist telling people – any people – what to do.

And that extends far beyond the sugar bowl.

As the Moncton Times & Transcript reported recently, Canadian consular officers in Vietnam rejected 33 applicants from that country for jobs at Captain Dan’s Seafood and Pecheries GEM Ltee despite the fact that the two employers had “valid labour market opinions at the time of the application and had paid all due fees while the Vietnamese applicants took additional measures to improve their candidacy.”

Those measures included “weeks of intensive English-language courses and specific seafood processing training.”

The Moncton lawyer representing the two local firms is flabbergasted. “The employers have been let down without an adequate workforce,” Martin Aubin told T&T reporter Kayla Byrne. “They have paid good money, done everything by the rules and received permits to hire people. We had openings for 33 people, we found 33 people, but all of them have been denied. . .To fail completely is a new experience for me.”

Get used to it. 

No one – but, no one – gets around these dogs once they’ve got several bones clenched between their incisors. Consider, if you will, one more choice example of latent control freakishness: Bill C-24, which passed quietly in June.

Also called the Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act, this legislation moves its patron, Minister of of Citizenship and Immigration Chris Alexander, practically to tears. 

It will, he said recently, “protect and strengthen the great value of Canadian citizenship, and remind individuals that citizenship is not a right, it’s a privilege. . .It is in honour of those who protected this city, in honour of those who have served and serve today, in honour of all who have made the sacrifice of war, and those who have contributed in their own way to building this great country, that we are further strengthening the value of Canadian citizenship.”

It will also do a couple of other things, according to one news report – notably provide the federal government with sweeping new license to share information about Canadian immigrants with foreign powers almost indiscriminately.

Of course, that’s all in a day’s work for a government whose main business is fast becoming minding other people’s.


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Bring us your tired, yearning to work



Through no fault of their own, 50 million people around the world are rootless and stateless. The victims of wars and warlords, dictators and economic dissolution, they wander the Earth as refugees, as unwilling nomads, and in numbers not recorded since the end of the second, great, European conflagration of the 20th Century.

Meanwhile, the Canadian government once a beacon of light in the United Nation’s Human Development Index – plays a crass round of poker in which it chooses those immigrants it wants, those it will merely tolerate and those it would rather wash its hands of entirely. 

The latest incarnation of this game of drones is the new regime governing the nation’s Temporary Foreign Workers Program.

Employment Minister Jason Kenney says he’s doing Canadians a favour by restricting the number of international grunts businesses in this country can hire and installing punitive fines on  those who flout the fresh regulations. 

As CTV reports: “Under the new rules, employers in places with high unemployment rates won’t be allowed to hire temporary foreign workers in the lowest wage and skills groups in the accommodation, food service and retail sectors. Companies will also be required to re-apply each year to have low-wage TFW’s, instead of every two years. The cost of that will rise to $1,000 per employee, up from $275.”

Mr. Kenney justifies his decision in typically bellicose terms: “As opposed to being a last resort, in too many cases it’s (the TWF) become a first or only resort. . .That is unacceptable. I don’t care how tight the local labour market is, you shouldn’t be setting up a business and spending money on capital for a business if you don’t have the human capital to staff it.”

Don’t you just love the way these guys talk? 

Human beings become “human capital”, commodities that governments can and do rate and rank according to their own political exigencies and circumstances. 

At the same time, the minister in charge of labour markets doesn’t give a fig about the condition of labour markets if giving a fig means annoying a partisan base of low-end citizen workers/voters who, once their pogey runs down, can’t find sufficient numbers of mc-jobs to qualify them for another, ritualistic term of government-sanctioned, fully funded couch potatodom. How exquisitely NDP of him.

All this from a government who thinks it perfectly reasonable to lecture Atlantic Canadian provinces on their habitual use of Employment Insurance to actually sustain a labour market that backstops at least four, bone-fide seasonal industries (fishing, forestry, tourism, and agriculture).

In fact, on this subject in this country, almost no one looks good. Abuses of the system are systemic and rampant. And no government – Tory or Grit – has ever figured out a compelling, convincing, comprehensive, rational fix. 

But why should they bother? After all, no one in this country gets elected by insisting that low-wage foreign workers are only here because native-born and naturalized citizens don’t possess the skills that commercial enterprises actually need.

Have you ever worked a naan oven at 5 am in the morning? I didn’t think so. 

On the other hand, too many employers in this country work these people like virtual slaves; gaming the system at every opportunity to feather their marginal nests. As there are no federal oversights, no provincial or municipal protections that practically apply, what else would we as fine, upstanding Canucks expect?

Today, according to the Canadian Council for Refugees, “the number of migrant workers in Canada has increased by 70 per cent in the last five years. Canada has been shifting towards a reliance on migrant labour. In 2008, for the first time, the number of temporary foreign workers in Canada exceeded the total number of permanent residents admitted in the same year. At the end of 2012, the gap had grown: There were 338,189 temporary foreign workers in Canada on December 1, 2012, compared to 257,515 new permanent residents.”

Rather than revile these people publicly, we should embrace them as essential contributors to our society. Or, have we become too hardened to the plight of the world’s rootless that we have forgotten our own history?


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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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Ottawa’s penny-pinching pound-foolishness



For a government that purports to hold the interests of hard-working, middle-class folks close to heart, Harpertown sure has a funny way of showing it. 

Unless, of course, by showing it, our estimable representatives in Ottawa mean to produce precisely nothing to show for the $4.6 million they recently flushed down the public’s drain.   

That was the tidy sum Statistics Canada spent in 2012 asking 25,000 employers across the country about such timely matters as the workplace skills gap – surveys that now sit on a shelf, unanalyzed and unpublished, because the money’s run out to complete the job. 

Not for nothing, but no less a formidable parliamentarian than Employment Minister Jason Kenney has framed skills shortages and mismatches as one of the most important issues in the nation’s recent history. Indeed, in a speech to the Economic Club of Canada last fall, he was adamant and unequivocal. 

“As the head of Canada’s economic union, the federal government plays a critical role in creating the conditions for strong private sector job creation to position our country for success in an increasingly competitive global economy,” he declared. 

“What I’m going to do is to share with you my take on what many agree is the biggest challenge facing our economy. I’m going to talk about how we can tackle skill shortages and skill mismatches, turning them into good jobs for Canadians and greater prosperity for the long term because I think my number one priority is to address this paradox of too many Canadians without jobs in an economy that has too many jobs without skilled workers.”

Of course, to do this, one needs an arsenal of good, accurate information. Or, does one?

Thanks to some intrepid reporting by the Globe and Mail this week, we now know that the StatsCan data, which was collected at the behest of Employment and Social Development Canada, “has sat idle for two years due to lack of funding to make it public. . .StatsCan collected the surveys over the first three months of 2012, but the funding ended there, before the data could be analyzed.”

In the wake of a $30 million budget cut to the numbers-crunching Agency’s budget over the past 24 months, it’s hard to avoid a creepy sensation of deja vu.  

In 2010, when the federal government announced it was scrapping the mandatory long-form census in favour of a “voluntary” household survey, editorials in just about every major newspaper in Canada screamed their disapproval. The nation’s two top statisticians, Munir Sheikh and Phil Cross, actually resigned their posts in evident, if dignified, protest.

In a news advisory at the time, Mr. Sheikh wrote that while he could not “reveal and comment on (the) advice” he gave the government “because this information is protected under the law,” he wanted to “take this opportunity to comment on a technical statistical issue which has become the subject of media discussion. This relates to the question of whether a voluntary survey can become a substitute for a mandatory census. . .It can not.”

Only last summer, Robert Gerst, a partner in charge of operational excellence and research and statistical methods at Calgary-based Converge Consulting Group Inc., declared in an opinion piece for the Waterloo Region Record, “The quality of the results has come under criticism because the voluntary survey replaced the compulsory long-form census questionnaire. In effect, this replaced a random sample with a non-random sample. Non-random samples have their place, but making conclusions about the population isn’t one of them.

Naturally, then, “no conclusions about the Canadian population can be drawn from the national household survey. Since making these types of conclusions is the whole point of a census, the survey data is worthless. (This is also true for any survey where participation is voluntary, including citizen, customer and employee satisfaction surveys).”

Apparently, we’ve devolved from worthless survey data to non-existent survey data – or, at least, unexamined and, therefore, worse than worthless if only because we’ve still had to pay the bill for its compilation.

When will this government get it through its institutional head that to speak with any degree of authority about anything, one must first have facts and figures – evidence – at one’s disposal? 

That’s what truly concerns hard-working, middle-class Canadians about their elected officials and the policies they pursue in the interests they purport to hold dear.


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For once, a great notion


Astoundingly, the federal and provincial governments in Atlantic Canada are getting out of their own way and forging a rational, relevant and thoroughly reasonable accord designed to improve both job prospects and economic development in the region for years to come.

And no, bitter winter weather aside, hell is not freezing over.

Witness last week’s announcement of an $8-million joint program (cost-shared between the feds, who are ponying up $4.3 million and the four Atlantic provinces, who will contribute $3.5 million) to promote trades training and apprenticeships and remove educational and labour market barriers that prevent employers and workers from finding  true, wedded, occupational bliss together.

“What’s happening now (is), in essence, we have four provinces doing their own thing virtually doing the same thing,” Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil told The Halifax Chronicle-Herald.

That’s got to go, said federal Employment Minister Jason Kenney at a news conference in Fredericton last week: “We need to break down the unnecessary red tape and bureaucracy that exists to people getting their apprenticeships done and to getting their journeyman ticketed status so they can actually be full journeymen on the job sites and moving around to where the work is.”

In practice, the program will harmonize training, certifications and standards across the region in 10 trades, starting with cook, instrumentation and control technician, bricklayer and construction electrician. The rest will follow in due course, and not a moment too soon.

For decades, certain parts of Canada have been enduring a steady erosion in the number of skilled tradespeople on the job. Where once being a cabinet maker or plumber was considered a thoroughly viable career choice, we somehow got it into our heads that, as Mr. Kenny so aptly states, “everyone just had to go to university. . . We stopped encouraging people to pursue vocational and technical trades in our  high schools.”

In recent years, the pendulum has begun to swing back. According to careersintrades.ca “the wage gap between workers with bachelor degrees and trade certificates is declining.  Between 2000 and 2011, the average weekly wages of full-time workers aged 25 to 34 with trades certificates grew by 14 per cent, while bachelor degree holders saw their wage growth slow to 1per cent. And, apprentices begin to make money right away, earning a wage from their first day at work.”

And yet, according to Rick Spence, business columnist, writing in the Financial Post last year, “Studies cited by Skills Canada, a federally supported organization dedicated to trades and apprenticeships, indicate 40 per cent of new jobs in he coming decade will be in skilled trades or technology (think computer animation, network support, etc.). “

Meanwhile, in guidance offices and family dining rooms, the song remains the same: just 26 per cent of young people aged 13 to 24 plan to consider a career in the skilled trades, with 59 per cent of youths saying their parents have not encouraged them to consider the trades as a career option.”

Given the coming demographic changes – the last cohort of baby boomers retiring (we’ll see about that, of course), dropping birth rates, and a steady-state universe for immigrants – a country with an increasingly light supply of people who can actually make things, like toilets, work invites a whole new set of productivity problems not yet imagined in chambers where bankers and economists chatter about national competitiveness.

Indeed, as Mr. Kenney observed, “We have a lot of tradesmen, the guys and ladies who literally built the the country, who are about to start retiring. We have a much smaller group of people to fill their shoes.”

It is refreshing, like a blast of Arctic air, to hear politicians of any stripe, from any level, talk pragmatically about issues into which they are willing to invest some expertise and over which they are prepared to exert some control – and all for the common good.

It is heartening to watch them put their heads together, work out their problems logically and calmly and, when the day’s work is done, unveil the big reveal.

Why, it’s almost as if some of them went to trade school.

Well. . .almost.

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