Report disputes Harper’s record on jobs

Dana Flavelle / Toronto Star

Unemployment is higher, job quality is mixed and there is evidence pay inequality has increased under the Harper government, according to a report to be published Wednesday.

While the economy has created more jobs since the Great Recession of 2008, unemployment is still higher than it was in 2006 when the Harper government came to office, the report for the Broadbent Institute found.

“That hasn’t stopped Stephen Harper and his Conservative government from trumpeting their record as good economic managers, claiming to pursue a successful jobs and growth agenda,” the report by the progressive Ottawa-based think tank noted.

With a federal budget less than two weeks away and an election campaign coming this fall, the institute decided to take a closer look at whether the job market has improved under Harper’s watch.

“We’ve got a federal election coming. We should debate the record,” said Andrew Jackson, the institute’s senior policy advisor. “We should be talking about how to create more and better jobs, instead of pretending there’s no problem.”

Federal finance minister Joe Oliver, in a recent speech in Toronto, said the government had created more than 1.2 million net new jobs since the depths of the recession, calling it one of the strongest job creation records in the G7.

“The overwhelming majority of those jobs are full-time, private sector, and in high-wage industries,” Oliver said in a speech to the Economic Club of Canada.

Oliver also said Canada has the best pay gains in the G7 according to the International Labour Organization’s Global Wage Report.

Canada has experienced continuing middle-income growth, while for many countries it has halted, according to the Centre for American Progress, Oliver said in the speech.

A Fraser Institute report concluded that “the adult unemployment rate is at historically low levels”, and Canada has seen “a marked increase in high-wage factory jobs in recent years,” Oliver also noted.

Jackson said his research found a third of new jobs are in the lowest- paid occupations, such as sales and service, and a third of new jobs are part-time.

Wages are “about flat” if you adjust for inflation, Jackson said.

“I think the key point I’m making is they’re over-hyping the quality of the jobs they’ve created. And 2009 is not the appropriate starting point,” Jackson said.

In comparison with 2006, when the Harper government was first elected, unemployment is higher for all age groups and both genders, the institute notes, based on data supplied by Statistics Canada.

Among 25 to 54 year olds, for example, the unemployment rate in 2006 was 5.3 per cent. The rate rose in 2009, during the Great Recession, to 7.1 per cent. By the end of 2014, it had fallen to 5.8 per cent by remained above pre-recession levels, the data shows.

The number of part-time jobs rose at twice the rate of full-time jobs and was concentrated among older workers over age 55, the report says.

In terms of job quality, the public sector has produced most of the good paying jobs while the private sector has provided more low-wage work, the report says.

Sales and service jobs, which pay $16.40 an hour on average, grew. Health care jobs, which pay $35.50 an hour, also rose. While manufacturing work, which pays roughly $20.68 an hour, declined, the report said.

“It’s far from being back where we were in 2006 in terms of the proportion of Canadians with jobs and particularly full-time jobs,” Jackson said. “The tilt of job creation has been to part-time, low paid, service jobs,”

“What it tends to show is this theme of the eroding middle-wage job,” Jackson said.