I have the following opinion piece in the latest (September 2013) edition of The Commonwealth, accompanied by this disclaimer: â€œThe views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the official position of the Saskatchewan NDP.â€
Comparing the NDP and Sask. Party Employment Records
Right-wing politicians often win elections by presenting themselves as good economic managers. British Columbiaâ€™s provincial election was the latest example of how the rightâ€™s rhetorical focus on the economy can derail the NDP.
It also illustrated how simply being cautious and saying little about economic issues is an ineffective defence. New Democrats must challenge the economic record of right-wing governments and articulate alternative policies.
The Sask. Party often touts â€œrecordâ€ levels of employment. National Post columnist John Ivison recently credited Premier Brad Wall with â€œrecord low unemployment.â€ These claims range from misleading to incorrect.
Ivisonâ€™s statement appears to be based on Saskatchewanâ€™s unemployment rate temporarily falling to 3.7% in June, before rising to 4.0% in July [and 4.2% in August]. But even 3.7% was not a record.
Statistics Canadaâ€™s Labour Force Survey provides comparable figures going back to 1976. It reports a provincial unemployment rate of 3.5% for several months in 1976, 1977 and 1979. Former Premier Allan Blakeney still holds Saskatchewanâ€™s record for low unemployment.
It is true that there are â€œmore people working in Saskatchewan than ever beforeâ€ because, in a growing economy, there will be more jobs in the present than in the past. A more relevant question is whether the rate of growth is higher now than in the past.
Interestingly, provincial employment expanded by exactly the same amount (31,500) during the first five years of Wallâ€™s premiership as it had during the last five years of Lorne Calvertâ€™s premiership. Since Calvert started with a smaller workforce, the growth rate was slightly higher under the NDP.
Seasonally-adjusted figures can extend this comparison to all the months of Sask. Party government for which we have data (November 2007 through July 2013) and to the same number of months of New Democratic government (March 2002 through November 2007). Employment grew by 10% during both periods.
The Calvert and Wall governments both enjoyed high commodity prices and slashed provincial royalties to amplify the resource boom. The policy alternative would be to collect more of the windfall from higher resource prices through royalties and reinvest these proceeds in needed infrastructure and public services, which are more labour-intensive than resource extraction.
The Blakeney government took that approach during the 1970s. By both the five-year and seasonally-adjusted comparisons, employment growth was stronger under Blakeney than under Calvert or Wall.
Job increases since 2007 seem â€œunprecedentedâ€ only compared to the 1980s and 1990s, when commodity prices were depressed. We should not allow the Sask. Party to take credit for todayâ€™s high commodity prices.
The policy question is how best to manage the boom. Wall recently gushed over PotashCorp repatriating some head-office jobs and sponsoring some local events. But the companyâ€™s last quarterly report indicates that the potash production tax, resource surcharge and Crown royalties still amount to only 10% of the value of potash that it extracts from Saskatchewan.
All candidates in the recent provincial NDP leadership race agreed that the people of Saskatchewan should receive the best possible return from natural resources. New Democrats must now call attention to loopholes in the royalty structure and propose improvements.
History suggests that collecting additional resource revenue to fund public services and infrastructure would create more jobs as well as meeting other social, economic and environmental needs.