Canada faced the loss of some 46,000 full time jobs in December in a year that was disappointing overall for full time employment prospects. Job losses in March 2013, for example, was even worse at 54,500, according to Statistics Canada. In fact, 2013 was the worst year in job growth since 2009, ending with a national unemployment rate of 7.2 per cent.
Part of this has to do with the large scale departure by private sector companies as they move branch plant operations to jurisdictions where production costs, meaning wages, are lower. The trend includes 740 jobs lost with the departure of the ketchup maker H.J. Heinz from Leamington, Ontario, while Kellogg’s, the cereal makers, will take 500 jobs out of this province.
Clearly, those tax breaks that have been going to corporations – some bitterly call them corporate welfare – have not resulted in a flowering economy here. This is against the backdrop of extra federal spending in the attempt to protect the Canadian economy against the meltdown that threatened the world economy back in 2009.
Despite this effort, the Canadian economy, which continues to be very dependent on U.S. spending patterns, did not grow at a rate that can instill confidence in the everyday person. Certainly, there is an up-tick in the current situation south of the border, but that hasn’t yet resonated here.
Partly responsible also is the federal government’s reducing personnel in its commitment to get rid of the deficit by the time of the next election in 2015. There is more to come as well with Canada Post’s plans to end door-to-door daily delivery in urban areas. The public corporation’s goal is to save money by cutting staff by between 6,000 and 8,000.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper may be touting Canada’s new trade agreement with Europe as a landmark achievement, but for now it appears more noise than substance. Moreover, bearing in mind the outcome of the last big trade agreement, the North America Free Trade Agreement, the effect has been one of taking jobs away at the lower level of the economic ladder and giving unprecedented wealth increases to the top rung.
Despite this difficult jobs climate, a news item very early in the New Year announced that by lunchtime on January 2, Canada’s top executives would have earned the equivalent of the annual average salary of a Canadian worker.
The sad fact is that likely by noon on New Year’s Day, January 1, those top tier earners would have surpassed the salaries of a significant portion of the working poor.
The state of the economy is of course not the absolute responsibility of government. But as was the case with that rescue budget back in 2009-10, a government can decide on spending policy to protect the economy. It would appear that at this time the focus has shifted.
So what do workers and job seekers have to look forward to in 2014? The trend continues toward a patchwork of part-time jobs. At the same time that full time jobs were being shed in December, 14,000 part-time jobs were picked up. But it is important to recognize that these are not the kinds of jobs with meaningful futures. They are not what economists would call “quality” jobs.
The norm for the workforce now is to earn income from a number of different sources. The service industry provides many of the new jobs, but at minimum or low wages. To have a sustainable income a significant portion of the population has to hold onto two and sometimes three part-time jobs to make ends meet.
Either that or move to the well-paid oil industry jobs in Alberta and Newfoundland.
Next year’s election is not so distant that the Harper Conservatives can hope to retain public confidence by maintaining a steadfast commitment to austerity just to make the books look good. Moreover, the oil industry alone cannot save the economy.
One front on which the government could respond to the job crisis is by spending on upgrading infrastructure. Certainly, after the kinds of breakdowns that occurred during two massive storms in this region, the need for infrastructure improvements is obvious.
It would be a better use of taxpayers’ money than publicizing job creation programs like Canada Jobs Grant that have yet to be up and running.