The Fraser Institute's child-care troubles

When the Fraser Institute published a report recently on the cost of raising a child, the right-wing think tank claimed – with a straight face – that it costs between $3,000 and $4,500 each year. Author Christopher Sarlo also provided a helpful tip: Canadians can be thriftier when it comes to raising their children.

The author just happened to exclude a huge expense when he did the number-crunching: cost of child care. Parents outside Quebec who can’t access the province’s $7-a-day child-care program know how high this monthly expense is. The Fraser Institute’s annual child-rearing budget could be eaten up in a few months.

But measuring “the cost of raising children is laden with political implications stemming from vested interests that seek to increase entitlement programs for parents,” the report states.

That’s why it’s been so remarkable this week to read the Globe and Mail’s six-part series on child care, running through Friday

Not known for its activist bent, the newspaper’s headline “The case for publicly funded child care” said it all. Here's a bit more for the Fraser Institute to chew on:

“Universal child care is a three-way economic stimulus program – it helps parents work (and reduces poverty), directly creates jobs for early childhood education, and if the early learning is good enough, gives a boost to the next generation of skills labour.”

Photo: bcgovphotos. Used under a Creative Commons BY-NC-DC licence.

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Conservatives undermine labour laws, again

The Conservatives have become the masters of stuffing as much as possible into their budget implementation bills.

Tuesday was no exception, when Finance Minister Jim Flaherty fired the government's latest torpedo to undermine Canada's labour laws.

The budget implementation act will make it illegal for any bargaining unit within the federal government to strike if it provides an "essential service." And who gets to decide? Good question.

The threshold is 80 per cent or more of the positions are considered necessary to provide the essential service. There's a catch, of course. The proposed legislation says that "the employer has the exclusive right to determine that a service is essential and the number of positions required to provide that service."

How convenient. Stay tuned, though. The courts may have something to say.

Photo: joeycoleman. Used under a Creative Commons BY-SA 2.0 licence.

Irony alert: the Senate edition

When Mike Duffy stood up in the Senate chamber on Tuesday, he delivered a blistering speech full of allegations about blackmail and extortion involving the Prime Minister's Office.

It's brutal stuff for Stephen Harper's government, and the press are having a field day.

What you likely won't read is the rich irony underlining some of Duffy's zingers. Here's a sampling:

Irony alert #1:

"This motion is something one might expect to see in Iraq or Iran or in Vladimir Putin's Russia, but not in democratic Canada" -- Duffy says to a room full of unelected people who actually pass laws - and even kill bills passed by the elected folks in the House of Commons.

Irony alert #2:

"Today you have an opportunity to stand strong and use your power to restrain the unaccountable power of the PMO" -- Duffy says to a room full of unaccountable people who have been appointed to Canada's Parliament until they turn 75. 

Irony alert #3:

"it deprives me, not only of a paycheque but of a health plan, of life insurance... Who is going to buy the heart drugs I need" -- Duffy says while the Conservative government, with the support of Conservative senators, continues to fire thousands of federal public servants as part of its cost-cutting measures.

Bonus irony:

David Smith, Liberal senator and longtime party activist (who did double duty as Liberal campaign co-chair for the 2011 election), speaking out against the government's motion. Who said the Senate isn't a place for party hacks?

Photo: chocolatedisco. Used under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND 2.0 licence.

Canada’s phantom skills shortage and the TFW Program

A new report from Toronto Dominion Bank released Tuesday highlights an inconvenient fact for the Conservative government: there’s little evidence of a widespread skills and labour shortage in Canada.

So why has the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, pitched by the Conservatives as a solution to Canada’s skills shortage, been growing steadily? Last year, 213,573 workers were admitted into Canada – a big jump from 2000.

Behind the numbers is a story of abuse: companies displacing Canadian workers and replacing them with lower waged foreign workers, toiling away for below-market pay. It almost looks like there’s a push for a low-wage economy.

And despite changes announced earlier this year to require employers to provide greater proof that they’ve exhausted domestic alternatives, the Institute for Research on Public Policy released a report last week calling on the federal government to go further. Ottawa needs to cap the number of temporary workers permitted to work in Canada each year to prevent "excessive reliance," the report says.

A week later, we get the TD report. How inconvenient for the Conservative government.

Photo: ChodHound. Used under a Creative Commons BY-SA 2.0 licence.

The politics of muzzling government scientists

It isn't easy being a scientist for the federal government these days. That's the clear message from new research released by the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada (PIPSC).

The union commissioned Environics Canada to "gauge the scale and impact of 'muzzling' and political interference among federal scientists." Over 15,000 were invited to participate in the survey, and about 4,000 took up the offer. The results, released Monday, are startling.

Hundreds of respondents confirmed they’d been asked to "exclude or alter technical information in government documents for non-scientific reasons." Thousands said they’d "been prevented from responding to the media or the public."

If you're Philip Cross, a fellow at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, it's "perfectly reasonable for management to exercise its right to control what is communicated to the media."

"This is not blocking scientists from doing their work, it's management exercising its right to control what is communicated to the media." Besides, "most of what the federal government scientists do is monitoring and collecting data, which is then analyzed and debated by the larger academic community.... The government has every right to remind the scientists who monitor this data not to speculate about how the data might be interpreted by more-qualified experts," Cross wrote Tuesday in an op-ed piece in the National Post.  

Is this all that's going on inside the federal government? Check out these numbers from the PIPSC survey:

24% say they’ve been directly asked to exclude or alter information for non-scientific reasons.

48% say they're aware of cases where their department or agency has "suppressed or declined to release information," leading to "incomplete, inaccurate, or misleading impressions."

50% say they are aware of "cases where the health and safety of Canadians" or environmental sustainability has been compromised because of political interference in their scientific work.

86% say they don’t feel they could share their work with the public without fear of censure or retaliation from their department.

90% say they don’t feel like they can speak freely to the media about the scientific work they do.

Photo: jennfarr. Used under a Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 2.0 licence.

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