Do the Conservatives fudge the numbers to sell economic choices?

When the Harper government announced in December that they had no plans to expand the Canada Pension Plan to tackle retirement insecurity, they justified the decision by explaining the move would kill between 17,000 and 50,000 jobs.
Turns out that's not quite true.
Finance Canada documents released under Access to Information, provided to PressProgress by the Canadian Labour Congress, actually show that senior officials in the Department of Finance's economic studies and policy analysis branch determined there would be a positive effect in the long term.
Check out this proposed answer, developed in response to a question about whether any job losses attributed to a CPP hike would be permanent:
"In the long run, expanding the CPP would bring economic benefits. Higher savings will lead to higher income in the future and higher consumption possibilities for seniors."
That answer never made the final cut. Rather, media lines provided the reporters focussed singularly on negative economic impacts with an expanded CPP.

It gets worse.

The internal records show the Conservatives' dramatic claim about jobs losses tied to CPP expansion (17,000 job losses under the PEI plan and 50,000 under the NDP plan) is based on flawed methodology.

The government's basic assumption used for their internal analysis was that expansion would occur in a single year, "without prior notification," according to one of the internal documents.

But that's not how it's done. The proposed plans all include phase-in periods of up to 10 years. And the last time there was an increase in CPP premiums in Canada, it was done over six years from 1997 to 2003.
"Finance Canada used the most unrealistic assumptions to generate forecasts of significant job losses, economist Rhys Kesselman, who holds the Canada Research Chair in Public Finance at Simon Fraser University’s School of Public Policy, told the Vancouver Sun.
Sound familiar?
This is the same government that's Hanging their hat on kijiji job postings to conclude -- wrongly -- that Canada's job vacancy rate is in the rise.


The Parliamentary Budget Officer called out Finance Canada last week. The office released a report showing the department's jobs report, released alongside the federal government last month, relied on questionable job postings on Kijiji to conclude the country's job vacancy rate has been "increasing steadily since 2009." 

(The Conservatives often cite this phantom trend to explain why the Temporary Foreign Worker program has expanded under their watch.)

"Officials with the Parliamentary Budget Office says Kijiji is so unreliable as a job site that it can single-handedly explain away the government’s claims. With the simple removal of that one site from the search, the steep rise Ottawa flagged becomes much closer to a flat line," the Globe and Mail reported.

The real story, found in the PBO report and supported by Statistics Canada research, is there is little evidence of a national labour shortage or skills mismatch.

Oops, again.

Kijiji Economic Plan

Climate change contrarians resurface


Why the austerity agenda is bunk

Watch economist Mariana Mazzucato, author of The Entrepreneurial State: debunking private vs. public sector myths, explain in 140 seconds why governments that cut in bad economic times are wrong.

The University of Sussex professor, whose book was one of the Financial Times' 2013 books of the year, was in Ottawa over the weekend to deliver a keynote address at the Broadbent Institute's Progress Summit (clip courtesy of MediaStyle).

She rocked it:


Photo: 68751915@N05/. Used under a Creative Commons BY 2.0 licence.

The day the myth of Canada's labour shortage died


Boosting the CPP would "bring economic benefits": Finance Canada doc


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Jason Kenney's contradictory Twitter tirade over Kijiji jobs data

Jason Kenney is getting super defensive.

After news broke this week that the Conservatives' erroneous claim about job vacancies in Canada can be chalked up to job ads posted on the online classified site Kijiji, the Employment Minister has been on a one man mission to try to salvage what little remains of his government's economic credibility.

It's not surprising Kenney is walking on eggshells.

The Kijiji data shoots a big, gaping hole in the government's jobs report released alongside the federal budget last month. It said Canada's job vacancy rate has been "increasingly steadily since 2009."

Actually, no it hasn't, according to the Parliamentary Budget Office. (And Statistics Canada.)

PBO officials told the Globe and Mail that Kijiji is "so unreliable as a job site that it can single-handedly explain away the government’s claims. With the simple removal of that one site from the search, the steep rise Ottawa flagged becomes much closer to a flat line."

Things reached a climax Thursday when Kenney took to Twitter to defend his government's credibility and lash out at critics. During his frantic 21-tweet tirade, Kenney explained that he has never cited Kijiji or online job postings as a reliable source of employment data:

That's funny -- because just one day earlier, Kenney went on television to offer a spirited defence of why looking at Kijiji ads is important. Appearing on CTV's Power Play with Don Martin, Kenney said the site is the "classified page of the 21st century." And "statisticians are trying to get a grasp on..., you can't go to the dead tree newspaper anymore."




Tony Clement's anti-union talking points don't stand up to reality

The Conservative government, facing a constitutional challenge over its budget implementation bill for gutting collective bargaining rights of federal public sector workers, has some creative talking points to defend the draconian provisions.

The 9-page internal Questions and Answers document about the "modernization" of collective bargaining, prepared for Treasury Board president Tony Clement, was released to PressProgress under the Access to Information law.

No doubt civil servants will get a chuckle out of the Orwellian talking points, given the Public Service Alliance of Canada just filed its constitutional challenge this week to stop this "unprecedented assault on collective bargaining and workplace health and safety" buried deep in the Conservatives' massive 309-page budget implementation last fall.

Key provisions include giving the employer exclusive right to decide what are "essential services" and which workers perform them. These provisions, the union argues, violate worker's free expression and free association and render workers' right to strike completely "meaningless." 

Changes to the dispute resolution also means that arbitration boards are no longer independent.

Now, check out the Treasury Board talking points:

Treasury Board Talking Point 1

Why would the designation of essential services be determined exclusively by employer?

The safety and security of the public must be adequately maintained. The employer is in the best position to determine the number of employees required to maintain delivery of essential programs and services within their organizations.

Reality Check 1

"Safety first"? Really?

The Canadian Bar Association (CBA) says these provisions "introduce a unilateral employer right to determine essential services in the federal public service." This means the word "essential" now means whatever the Conservatives want it to mean.


The CBA points out that in order to give the government greater leeway in declaring everything "essential," Bill C-4 changes "the definition of 'danger' that justifies work refusals in all federally regulated workplaces" -- something that would put the health and safety of countless workers at risk. 


Treasury Board Talking Point 2

Would employees lose any rights as a result of these proposed changes?

No. The proposed amendments relate to improvements to processes and reducing overlap in certain areas.

Reality Check 2

The only overlap this bill reduces is the overlap between how Conservatives use the word "improvement" and what the word "improvement" actually means. 


What the amendments do is undermine worker's right to strike. PSAC spells it out in its court filing: declaring everything "essential" would "render strike activity effectively meaningless." 


Oh, and empowering Clement to call anything and everything "essential" allows "the employer to prohibit more employees from participating in a strike than is necessary." 


In other words, the amendments violate worker's freedom of expression. "The Supreme Court of Canada has repeatedly confirmed that this right is to be broadly interpreted," PSAC's notice of application states, "to protect non-violent action that conveys meaning, including the strike-related activities, such as picketing."

Treasury Board Talking Point 3

Why would the arbitration route only be available to some bargaining units?

For bargaining units with 80 per cent or more of its positions designated as essential service, the dispute resolution mechanism, should the parties reach an impasse, would be binding arbitration. As essential employees are not able to participate in strike activity, it is imperative that a dispute resolution mechanism other than concilliation/strike be available to them in the event that the parties reach an impasse. The arbitration route will bring finality to the bargaining process if the parties reach an impasse and minimize disruptions that could negatively impact the health and safety of Canadians.

Reality Check 3

It's always better for parties to freely negotiate, but when that's not possible, arbitration is the alternative. But it should be fair and impartial.

The problem is the Treasury Board also changed the rules so the arbitration board's ability to judge what is fair compensation is limited to what the government has budgeted. That gives the government arbitrary control over the arbitration process.

The Compensation Analysis and Research function of the Public Service Labour Relations Board is also cut, which eliminates the possibility of studying or having data to tell us what is or is not fair compensation.

And by making all arbitration awards subject to review by the chairperson of a new Public Service Labour Relations Board, appointed by the government, means the process is subject to political interference.

These changes stack the cards in the government's favour. "Fair compensation" effectively becomes whatever the government says is fair.

Treasury Board Talking Point 4

How has the Government engaged bargaining agents and employees on these amendments?

The Government of Canada will continue to work with bargaining agents and others to identify and implement improved practices and approaches.

Reality Check 4

The author of this "answer" appears to be dodging their own "question."


The Canadian Bar Association doesn't seem to think they've done anything to engage workers.


"These and other significant amendments were conceived and drafted without consultation with either labour or management groups, contrary to custom," CBA writes. "Consultation ensures that legislation is mindful of and responsive to its potential impact on workers and employers in affected workplaces."

In other words, the answer to the question is: no.

Keep talking, Tony.

For backgrounder, here's the whole Q/A package:


Photo: wikipedia

The pie chart to end the climate change debate


Watch Jason Kenney tap dance around Kijiji-gate

Employment Minister Jason Kenney has been talking up Canada's labour and skills shortage for months.

This storyline got a boost last month, when the Conservative government released a report claiming the country's job vacancy rate has been "increasing steadily since 2009."

Conveniently, this claim helped explain away the expansion of the controversial Temporary Foreign Workers program under the Conservatives, which has seen tens of thousands of migrant workers flooding into Canada to fill "McJobs" in the service sector.

The problem? It’s not true that Canada's job vacancy is up, according to a new report by the Parliamentary Budget Office.

The PBO discovered that the government relied on unreliable data from online classifieds website Kijiji to come to this conclusion. Turns out there's no national labour shortage or skills mismatch; Statistics Canada has found the same thing.

Watch Kenney tap dance around Kijiji-gate in the House of Commons in response to questions from the Opposition.


Photo: YouTube