Tag Archives: job creation

Circling the jobs drain


It’s not hard to understand why politicians vying for elected office routinely proclaim the number of people they intend to put back to work, if only the great unwashed would be so kind as to hand over the keys to the garden.

After all, job creation is the lowest-hanging fruit on the vine of campaign promises.

Who, among us, doesn’t understand the importance of a fully employed, adult citizenry? More to the prosaic point, who doesn’t want steady, reliable work for himself? And who isn’t, at least once, willing to swallow whatever sweet and succulent promise a politician offers, especially if it has to do with one’s livelihood.

Still, the problem with low-hanging fruit is that, all too often, it’s past its ‘best before’ date.

New Brunswickers witnessed this during former Progressive Conservative Premier David Alward’s term in office, in which he promised to create jobs across the broad spectrum of the provincial economy, only to preside over losses approaching 4,500.

Now, perhaps, we prepare ourselves for a repeat performance by the Liberal government of Brian Gallant (different party, same story), which, according to its own Department of Finance, appears fated to watch the provincial labour market shed hundreds, perhaps even thousands, more by 2018.

The reasons are pretty straightforward, and can apply to any government in this age of perennially straitened circumstances, regardless of ideological stripe and partisan palaver.

According to the Economic Outlook 2016-2017, which accompanied the most recent New Brunswick budget, “Weaker growth at the national and global levels, challenges in the export and manufacturing sectors, slower-than-expected growth in investment and continued weakness in the labour market contributed to subdued growth in 2015. . .Real economic growth of 1.3 per cent in 2015 (is estimated), down from 1.8 per cent projected at budget last year. This estimate is consistent with the latest consensus among private sector forecasters.”

On the other hand, “Economic activity is expected to be tempered by demographic realities, private sector investment, fiscal measures and the recently announced suspension of operations at the Picadilly mine. Private sector forecasts may not reflect the latter development, which will put downward pressure on their projections.”

In fact, “Growth conditions will be further limited by PotashCorp’s announcement that it was indefinitely suspending operations at the Picadilly mine. The economic impact will be partially mitigated in the short-term by transitional measures being offered by the company. However, the effect of the suspension will continue to be felt well into 2017.”

Add to this boiling cauldron of trouble New Brunswick’s rapidly aging population and low birth rate and you have the perfect recipe for moribund economic conditions and, at best, stagnant job prospects. Or, as the finance department’s report observes, “Looking ahead to 2017, external demand and further government capital spending will drive economic activity. However, an aging workforce, overall population decline and weak private sector investment will curb growth.”

Naturally, all this translates into job losses, not growth.

Indeed, evidence of deep-rooted rot in the province’s economic garden has been extant for several years. And, except for specifically dunderheaded moves by certain elected officials, none of it is actually any individual’s or even government’s fault.

It’s a product of decades of short-sighted policy, calcified programming, and uncompetitive and complacent private-sector players. And, don’t underestimate the effects of rolling, increasingly deep recessions on resource-based, export-oriented jurisdictions, such as New Brunswick’s.

Despite their proclamations, politicians don’t create employment in the private economy.

But when they fail to deliver the fruits of their campaign promises – jobs – perhaps it’s only right that they should lose their own.

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Reversing our job losses


In electoral politics, the easiest promises to make are always the hardest to keep. As the New Brunswick government recesses for the short, hot summer, it leaves with the uneasy certainty of that adage festering in the pit of its stomach.

No campaign vow is more facile – or more common – than the one that guarantees robust employment, despite evidence that strongly militates against its success. Still, every candidate for public office, regardless of his or her party affiliation, trots out the tired old trope, “job creation is our no. 1 job,” or words to that effect, as if his or her magic wand is loaded with something more substantial than good intentions.

Why elected representatives routinely beg to assume direct responsibility for an economic process that is quite eminently and obviously resides outside their wheelhouse is a question only the gods of political ambition can properly answer. The results, however, are as predictable as rain in the springtime.

As Statistics Canada reported last week, New Brunswick somehow lost 5,300 full-time jobs in May, just as nation, overall, picked up 59,000 positions.

“Certainly after a disastrous first quarter, the outlook suddenly seems a lot brighter,” a Financial Post article observed. “For that, we can thank an unexpected surge in hiring in May­ ­– the biggest gain in seven months, in fact, and more than six times larger than anyone had expected. And the majority of those new jobs were created in a previously unlikely location – Ontario, which had seen its prominence diminish in recent years as the manufacturing-focused economy turned to energy-heavy provinces for growth.”

All of which suggests that economists at the TD Bank were onto something earlier this month when they noted in letter to institutional clients, “The notion of ‘short’ or sell Canada became a growing theme in international circles, as falling oil prices added to concerns about an overheated housing market and high household indebtedness,” Derek Burleton and Leslie Preston wrote. “A few months later, however, it seems the bears have not been proven right. Data so far in 2015 show that investor flows into Canada have remained resilient and sentiment on the Canadian dollar has picked up.”

But as the country, on the whole, grows buoyant, the same cannot be said for New Brunswick, where the total number of employed in the unmerry month of May fell by 2,800 and 4,600 fewer people were combing the classifieds or pounding the pavement for even a glimmer of a job.

That performance was “bested” (if that is the correct word) only by Alberta, which lost 6,400 jobs. Newfoundland and Labrador shed 4,300 positions; Quebec lost 2,100; and Saskatchewan simply treaded water.

Never, however, underestimate a government leader’s sunny determination to put the best light on even the darkest circumstances.

Faced with the inevitable questions about his jobs record, New Brunswick Premier Brian Gallant insisted, “We’ve said from Day 1 that there will be ups and downs,” he told the Saint John Telegraph-Journal. “I think that’s (the province’s static job creation record in recent years) pretty positive when you look at what is happening nationally. Alberta, which is one of our economic drivers in the country, lost thousands over the last month. We have many companies and businesses here in New Brunswick that provide to the supply chain in Alberta, so obviously they are going to have some impact.”

Of course, if this provincial government insists on falling into the commonplace trap of issuing promises regarding job creation, it would do well to consider all the factors that are actually within its power to influence.

Shale gas, anyone?

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Start singing a happy tune on jobs


On the hit parade of promises political candidates make, number one with a bullet is always job creation. It’s also the first to fall off the charts once the aspirant to public office becomes the duly elected.

“Jobs, jobs, jobs,” contenders from all points on the partisan spectrum thunder righteously as if they, alone, know where the keys to the castle are buried. And, yet, when the expected employment fails to bloom, the mantra suddenly turns neo-conservative, like a tract plucked straight from the pages of an Ayn Rand manifesto: “Government doesn’t create jobs; the private sector creates jobs.”

Oh, so that’s how it works. Thanks for sharing. I’ve always wondered.

In fact, generations of politicians have relied on the sturdy “jobs and growth” agenda to get themselves elected for the single reason that it tends to generate happy results. At least, it produces better ones than almost any other platform, apart from the one candidates increasingly use to sling mud and rotten tomatoes at one another.

The irony, of course, is that job claims, vows, pledges or any other projection of the labour market’s condition are probably the least useful measure of a political candidate’s suitability for elected office.

No one individual controls the economic and commercial forces that usher cycles of recession and recovery. And unless a particular government is determined to spend a bunch of tax dollars hiring civil servants to push pencils and pile paper all day, publicly engineered job creation is a game of estimates, not certitudes.

This fact, alone, seems to have escaped the attention of both Liberal Premier Brian Gallant and interim Progressive Conservative Leader Bruce Fitch, who spent an inordinate amount of time last week hammering away at each other over the proper definition of job creation specifically, whether the former has wasted no time breaking his first important campaign promise.

“I was very clear,” the premier told reporters outside the legislature on Thursday. “These are jobs that would be created through the mechanisms and the projects we would support. This isn’t talking about a net gain in jobs. There’s a big difference here.”

He was, of course, referring to the 5,000 jobs he had promised to generate in the first year of his mandate. Technically, he insisted, the province could still lose jobs, overall just not the ones for which he is determined to be responsible.

For his part, Mr. Fitch wasn’t buying the distinction. “Absolutely, it’s a promise broken,” he said. “If it’s not a promise broken, it’s certainly a commitment that was made without the proper details, which is something the public should have been made aware of.”

Fiddle-faddle, Mr. Gallant rejoined: “I am surprised to see the questioning today, because the past government would use this argument all the time. They would say they were creating jobs and stand up in the legislature and say,’50 jobs were created there,’ but yet when it came to the economy, we’d have a net loss of jobs.”

Almost nothing is funnier to a fan of political blood sports than an utterly meaningless debate over an allegedly broken promise that was probably impossible to fulfill anyway.

Still, it’s exchanges like this diversions and distractions that lead people to conclude, not unjustifiably, that politicians actually enjoy wasting their time in public.

At least as important as the quantity of jobs the provincial economy produces is the quality of those positions. Are they full-time or part-time, seasonal? Are they salaried positions with benefits, or casual terms under contract? Do they require a high degree of skill and expertise to perform, or are they low-wage and disposable?

Rather than emphasize job numbers, government and opposition members might spend  their sojourn in Fredericton more productively by working together to build the economic capacity that breeds and keeps promising new start-ups, encourages existing, successful ventures to expand and export, and attracts investment for industrial and community economic development.

Given the apparently unfordable gulf between them on shale gas in this province, it is, perhaps, not too much to ask our elected representatives to, every so often, sing from the same song sheet.

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