(Editor's Note: The following is An open letter to Conservative MPs across Canada)
My MP and I have been batting letters back and forth all summer long. Although Ron Cannan of Kelowna-Lake Country finally acknowledges that criticism is to be expected of his government's responses to unemployment, he continues to spin the facts.
For example, he reports Canada has recovered more than 765,000 net new jobs since the recession, and the record is particularly good in relation to youth unemployment.
Agreed, 765,000 is a lot of jobs, but economist Jim Stanford says when population growth is factored in, "less than one-fifth of the damage done by the recession has been repaired." In other words, the employment rate remains lower than it was before the recession. As for the youth employment rate, this June it was the lowest since 1977.
Cannan also notes the sunny view of CIBC economists: "the good news is that the Canadian economy created 155,000 new jobs in the first six months of 2012. The even better news is that these jobs were of high quality."
He leaves out the part where those economists warn that expected job losses in exports, construction and the public sector add up to a "sure-fire recipe" for reduced job quality.
Cannan also reports the average weekly wage in May 2012 was $894.61, up 2.5 per cent over the rate one year ago. That hasn't even kept up with inflation.
The fact is, the jobs market has been stalled since April; the unemployment rate fell by 0.1 per cent in June only because 16,800 dropped out of the labour force; it picked up the 0.1 per cent in July when 30,400 jobs were lost; there are six to ten unemployed workers for every job vacancy, depending on which province you live in; the unemployment rate for aboriginal Canadians was 12.9 per cent last year; the unemployment rate was 15.4 per cent in Vernon before seasonal hiring kicked in; and so many people are hungry in Kelowna, the food bank had to truck in 25,000 pounds of food from Alberta just last month.
Ron Cannan fiddles while Rome burns. He fiddles when he says the government has responded to unskilled labour shortages, particularly in the accommodation and agriculture sectors, by making "improvements" to the EI program.
In reality, the government changed EI rules to force Canadians to take these dead-end jobs or lose their EI benefits. (The average weekly wage in the accommodation sector was $366.63 in May 2012, a mere 40 per cent of the national average weekly wage. The government has enough money to subsidize the oil and gas industry by $1.38 billion per year, so surely there's enough to subsidize minimum wage jobs such as these.)
Cannan fiddles when he says the government has also responded to skilled labour shortages, and has done so appropriately through "improvements" to the Temporary Foreign Worker program and by bringing in the new Accelerated Labour Market Opinion.
What skilled labour shortages is he talking about? Perhaps we should look to Alberta, where claims for such shortages most often arise.
According to the Alberta Federation of Labour, when a straightforward calculation of demand for labour minus supply of labour is used, supply exceeds demand for every year projected through to 2021. There are plenty of workers.
Instead, the government uses "a strange formula" that subtracts the annual change in demand from the annual change in supply, and concludes there are skilled labour shortages for every year to 2021.
Skilled labour shortages have justified changes to the Temporary Foreign Worker program that allow foreign workers to be paid up to 15 per cent less than Canadian workers, thereby driving down wages for all workers. They have also justified changes to the Labour Market Opinion, expanding the range of occupations for which employers do not have to hire and/or train Canadians before turning to lower paid foreign workers.
I draw two conclusions. First, it's time to ask just how stupid this government thinks Canadians are. Second, it's time for Cannan and his cronies to climb out of the back pocket of employers and corporations and get cracking. Canadians need jobs - decent paying jobs - and we need them now.
Economists say $12 billion is what's needed in the EI Fund for rainy days like an economic recession. If the government pays back the Fund, there will also be enough to accommodate relaxed EI qualification criteria and extended benefit periods until the required jobs materialize.
It's time to stop blaming the 'too-choosey' unemployed, the 'greedy' labour unions and the 'spendthrift' Greeks a continent away for the economic mess in Canada.
It's the neoliberal agenda of the Conservative government that's responsible for the flow of wealth upward, ever upward, into the hands of the most extreme elite within the private sector.
Even the Senior Deputy Governor of the Bank of Canada has spoken out against rising levels of inequality, saying lower- and middle-income households have borne a disproportionate share of the cost of the recession and reaped less than their share of the income gains since then.
To all the Conservative MPs in Canada: please absorb this message and take it back to Ottawa with you. Your jobs are on the line.
Dianne Varga, Kelowna, BC.