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The Progressive Economics Forum

Sask Party Employment Math: From the Great Wall to the Berlin Wall

Last week, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives released my policy brief on Saskatchewan job-creation. Using Statistics Canada figures, it demonstrated that “workforce growth has been almost identical during the premierships of Brad Wall and Lorne Calvert.” Unsurprisingly, the main explanatory variable for Saskatchewan employment appears to be commodity prices rather than the party in power.

The governing Saskatchewan Party need not have been particularly offended by this conclusion. However, its narrative is that the province was like East Germany under the NDP and that Wall has unleashed “unprecedented growth.”

So, Economy Minister Bill Boyd responded by accusing me of using “selective statistics” and of living in “Ontario” (inexplicably blowing what could have been a clear shot at Toronto). He then stretched his statistics to the breaking point: “Boyd’s email added that between 1991 and 2007, the NDP created 51,100 new jobs. ‘Including the numbers to date in 2013 . . . we are already ahead of that in six years,’ he wrote.”

It’s certainly true that Saskatchewan employment growth was unimpressive during the 1990s, as it had been during the 1980s under the Progressive Conservatives (Wall and Boyd’s former party). Commodity prices were depressed during those decades. But Boyd overreached by claiming to have already created more jobs than the NDP had in 16 years.

According to the Labour Force Survey, Saskatchewan employment rose by 60,700 between November 1991, when New Democrats took office, and November 2007, when the Sask. Party took office. Boyd scrunches that number down to 51,100 by instead comparing the annual averages for 1991 and 2007.

A similar comparison of annual averages would indicate that employment rose by 32,700 between 2007 and 2012 under the Sask. Party. Seasonally-adjusted monthly figures indicate a rise of 43,900 between November 2007 and May 2013 (as noted in my brief).

How does Boyd get over the hurdle of 51,100? He makes that month-over-month comparison using unadjusted figures, pushing it up to 52,400. In addition to annual increases in employment, Boyd takes credit for the fact that more agricultural workers, construction workers and students are always employed in May than in November.

Because of those same seasonal factors, Saskatchewan employment has been even higher in June than in May during every year for which we have Labour Force Survey data. So, hold onto your hats for the release of another all-time record high employment number on Friday!

Oranges were in notoriously short supply in East Germany. But there must be plenty of oranges in the New Saskatchewan because Boyd liberally compares them to apples.

I had the following letter in yesterday’s Regina Leader-Post:

Jobs: NDP did better

In “Parties duel over development visions” (June 26), Saskatchewan Economy Minister Bill Boyd incorrectly alleges that my recent analysis of provincial employment “ignores the first five months of 2013.”

In fact, I presented seasonally adjusted figures from Statistics Canada covering the entire period from November 2007, when Boyd’s government took office, through May 2013.

I also presented the unadjusted data, which must be compared with the same month in prior years to avoid seasonal fluctuations. Therefore, these figures cover the period from November 2007 to November 2012. By either measure, employment growth has been slightly slower during the five years of Sask. Party government than during the preceding five years of NDP government.

Boyd claims that his government has created more jobs by citing unadjusted figures from November 2007 to the seasonal peak of May 2013. In other words, he compares different seasons without using seasonally adjusted numbers. He then uses annual averages for the NDP’s time in office. Talk about “selective statistics”!

Boyd opposes collecting a better return on Saskatchewan’s natural resources because “that money has to come from taxpayers.” In fact, resource royalties are not a tax on Saskatchewan people. Royalties are payments to Saskatchewan people from companies that wish to extract the province’s non-renewable resources.

Despite high commodity prices, Boyd’s policy has been to give away these resources for minimal royalties to promote rapid exploitation. Saskatchewan could create more jobs and improve quality of life by collecting more royalty revenue to fund needed investments in provincial infrastructure and services.

Erin Weir, Toronto
Weir is an economist with the United Steelworkers’ Canadian national office. He was a candidate for the Saskatchewan NDP leadership in March.

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