Behind the jobless count

Posted on September 7, 2009 in Debates, Governance Debates – Opinions/Editorial – Behind the jobless count
September 06, 2009

This week’s reopening of school will bring a measure of relief to 240,000 students who couldn’t find work this summer. They’ve borne the brunt of the recession since May.

They can now focus on getting the skills they need to compete when the employment market becomes healthier.

But for the remaining 1.36 million jobless Canadians, the outlook is bleak, despite last month’s modest upturn in employment. The gains were primarily in part-time work and confined to women. Men in their prime earning years and young job-seekers continued to lose ground. Full-time employment declined. The manufacturing sector continued to shed jobs.

The best news Statistics Canada could offer in Friday’s labour force survey was that the rate of job losses has slowed down in the last five months.

But many of the workers laid off in the early stages of the recession will never get their jobs back and will soon exhaust their employment insurance benefits. The manufacturing sector is in permanent decline. The public sector, saddled with massive government deficits, won’t be hiring anytime soon.

Yet Employment Minister Diane Finley shows no sign of concern. Just as the latest job figures were due to be released, she summoned television cameras to a bizarre spectacle in which she and fellow Conservative Pierre Poilievre sat in an empty committee room accusing the Liberals of walking out of a bipartisan working group on employment insurance.

In fact, the panel, announced in June, couldn’t meet for five weeks because the government hadn’t appointed members. When it finally convened, the Tories made it clear they weren’t prepared to consider Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff’s proposals. Instead, they leaked cost figures designed to discredit those proposals.

After three head-butting sessions that accomplished nothing, the Liberals pulled the plug.

Now both sides are laying blame, while ignoring the victims of the recession. More partisan posturing lies ahead, as the four political parties position themselves for an anticipated fall election.

The government is likely to introduce a couple of small EI improvements when Parliament resumes later this month. These will provide recipients with a few extra weeks of benefits and offer maternity and parental leave to the self-employed.

But the changes will do nothing for the hundreds of thousands of temporary and part-time workers who don’t qualify for EI coverage. And they will do nothing to bring Canada’s EI system – built for an industrial economy in which people had full-time jobs for life – into an era when workers are hired for projects or short-term contracts.

The recession that has gripped the country since October appears to be easing, but it typically takes an additional eight to 12 months for the job market to pick up.

Canadians need more than empty theatrics from their government.

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