Tag Archives: unemployment

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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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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Where are our new adventures in enterprise?


Down the rabbit hole of unemployment

Down the rabbit hole of unemployment

In coming to grips with what ails the Canadian job market, the nation, the region, our cities and towns have tried it all, only to conclude that the 21st Century is looking less like the 20th and more like the 19th.

A piece in the Saint John Telegraph-Journal yesterday brilliantly evokes the wild west that is Fort McMurray. “Go and spend a week (there) and see what life is like,” a local family lawyer, whose juggling several divorce cases, says. “From what I understand, and what’s described to me by women, it’s Dodge City, circa 1870. There are bars, strip joints, hookers.”

Such are the familiar lures of a boom town hooked on the almighty petro-dollar. In fact, most good jobs in this country are going this way (sans strippers and prostitutes as signing bonuses).   

Forget environmental engineering; think geology and hydrology. If that’s too academically rich for your blood (and if you can drive a stick) consider that an oil sands worker with a high school diploma can earn between $90,000 and $120,000 a year base salary. 

Consider, also, that federal government labour policies explicitly encourage people to work in this sector – to leave their homes in their less promising regions and lasso their own personal moons in Big Sky country. 

Yet, lest we fully become a nation of truckers and wildcatters, a few are issuing one last, possibly quixotic, call for reason in the job market. Weirdly, they are bankers who, one could argue, have the most to gain from unalloyed oil and gas prosperity.

Still, writes Gordon Dixon, chief executive officer of the Royal Bank of Canada and chair of the Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council, “Diversity and immigration are important parts of Canada’s past, present and future.”

His commentary appeared in yesterday’s edition of the Globe and Mail: “Our diverse population is only an advantage to the extent we are inclusive. Full inclusion means means everyone feels enabled to bring their perspectives, knowledge and experience to the table. Diversity, together with inclusion, plays a central role in driving productivity, innovation and growth.”

And here I thought productivity, innovation and growth had only to do with how much oil you can squeeze from a stone. At least, that’s what I read on the packaging before I drank deeply of the Kool-Aid. 

Not that there aren’t immigrants labouring away in the oil sands. It’s just that there aren’t many opportunities in the new west’s resource industries to demonstrate one’s native proclivities for diversity. Fortunately, we don’t have that particular problem in merry old New Brunswick, where our primary industries (such as they are) are failing both to retain existing residents and attract new ones. 

Last week, Statistics Canada (yes, it’s still alive and kicking after the federal government’s latest round of cutbacks, though just barely) reported that New Brunswick had lost 5,400 jobs (or, at least, 5,400 fewer people were working) in April. That pushed up the overall provincial unemployment rate to 10.5 per cent.

Imagine the entire population of Sackville – home of sweet Mount Allison University, alma mater to my grandfather, father and daughter – suddenly packing up their things an hitting the road en mass like a caravan of Okies from Muskogee. 

Charlie Coffey can imagine it. He’s a guest speaker at this week’s provincial jobs summit. The title of his address is “People Power is the Competitive Advantage: Building a Diverse Workforce in the 21st Century.”

Not surprisingly, perhaps, he’s a former executive vice-president of the Royal Bank who retired after 44 years. Again, he says, coming to grips with what ails us in this region is all about recognizing the importance of diversity.

Let’s not put all our eggs in one industrial basket. Let’s open up our hearts, minds and borders to different perspectives, new entrepreneurial opportunities, new adventures in enterprise.

“Since diversity is an integral part of business success, leveraging diversity has little to do with compliance and legal requirements and more to do with good business – smart business,” Mr. Coffey told the Telegraph-Journal recently. “Sometimes people find it hard to see how diversity and the bottom line are related.”

Of course, that’s only natural when, on any given day, the future of our conjoined economies looks very much like their past.


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Another day, another plan to fix New Brunswick


Somewhere, beneath the florid appeals to New Brunswick’s angels – to its fairness, justness, competence, impartiality, integrity, and respect – lies a plan to exorcise the province of its equally durable demons, its languishing labour force and perishing skills.

Thus begins the David Alward government’s glittering, new Labour Force and Skills Development Strategy, inscribed as if on tablets come down from the mount: “New Brunswick has a proud history of innovation and national and international leadership. We have flourishing multinational companies and thriving small- and medium-size enterprises.”

And yet, o brothers and sisters, woe still walks among us: “New Brunswick is, however, facing challenges that cannot be solved quickly. . .a median population age that is older than all other provinces, a shrinking youth age group, a decreasing birth rate, and an adult literacy rate that limits employment options for some.”

What shall we do? For starters, we shall engage in the making and reading of charts, specifically the “GNB Strategy Map”, in which a “stronger economy” and an “enhanced quality of life” are possible even though we must, henceforth, live “within our means”.

This implies that “all working-age New Brunswickers and newcomers” will have “an opportunity to participate in the labour market” provided “that they have the right skills to match provincial labour market needs.”

How shall this be accomplished? It has something to do with stimulating “the creation of quality jobs” for citizens, fostering “private sector business growth” and “driving economic development efforts” to, in the final analysis, “provide value for tax dollars. . .achieve a sustainable budget” and “prioritize, optimize and improve processes” in government.

All of which suggests, if little else, that this government is no slouch in the report-writing department. And, to be fair, the document does contain no fewer than 44 “action” items, some of which actually make sense.

Still, one can’t help suspect that, a mere 12 months before the next election, many of these measures have lost much of their utility. They would have been more effective three years ago when the problems that beset the province’s labour force were just as clear, if not as acute, as they are today.

“In coordination with other partners,” the government intends to “develop labour market information products to assist with selecting relevant post-secondary education and employment opportunities in New Brunswick.” What’s more, it will encourage “employment counsellors” to “visit students beginning in middle school and again in high school to provide awareness of occupational forecasts and related skills requirements.”

The strategy is also big on collaboration to wit: “Government will develop a coordinated approach with departments and other partners to ensure that all parties entrusted with growing the economy, work together and are aware of each others strategies and programs, i.e., New Brunswick Business Council, Conseil économique du Nouveau-Brunswick.”

It will also “work with employers to increase their knowledge of the benefits and opportunities surrounding posting of jobs on the Job Bank and assist them in developing job and position descriptions.”

In fact, the key to the plan’s success, it seems, is its “many-voices” approach, for “to meet (the) challenges facing the province, strong, collaborative partnerships are required not only within government, but with communities, industry, businesses, educators, and labour to ensure that New Brunswick has the human resource capital to meet the needs of the labour market.”

Again, though, we’ve known this for years. What’s different now, apart from the fact that things are getting worse?

The frayed achilles tendon of this report – indeed, of virtually every version of a prosperity agenda since before Bernard Lord was premier – is the specific who, what, where, when and how much.

It’s one thing to declare that “Government will work towards ensuring that all high school students have a transition exit plan prior to graduation” or that it will likewise “work with the early childhood education sector to strengthen the sector’s capability to administer high-quality programming by its members for the benefit of young children.”

It’s quite another to spell out the actual mechanics. That’s what a proper, useful  strategy does.

One must assume that this government has a real plan.

Sadly, this particular document, as loftily well-intentioned as it may be, just isn’t it.

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