Evidence vs. Ivison

If the National Post’s John Ivison wanted to agitate this blog’s authors, he could not have done much better than last week’s commentary on the census numbers. It was printed on the front page under the headline “Jobs in the West, jobless in the East; EI impeding labour mobility.”

To paint a picture of eastern Canadians loafing around on Employment Insurance as vast numbers of jobs go unfilled in western Canada, Ivison quoted two evidence-free sources.

First up was a statement from Premier Brad Wall that I had debunked last month in the Regina Leader-Post and on this blog. Next up was Perrin Beatty of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, which Andrew debunked the day before Ivison’s piece was printed.

I have the following letter in today’s National Post (page A13):

Re: Jobs In The West, Jobless In The East, Feb. 9.

John Ivison approvingly quotes Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall on Employment Insurance (EI): “In some regions, a person can work just over 10 weeks and receive almost a year’s worth of EI benefits.” This statement is incorrect.

In regions with the highest unemployment rates, including northern Saskatchewan, the minimum threshold to qualify for benefits is indeed 420 insurable hours (10.5 fulltime weeks). But someone with just this minimum could not receive benefits for the maximum of 45 weeks.

The broader narrative of impediments to labour mobility and Western labour shortages is equally dubious. Last year, the University of Toronto’s Mowat Centre EI Task Force concluded: “There is no evidence that regional variation in the unemployment insurance system has altered internal migration patterns in Canada in a substantial manner.”

Last month, Statistics Canada reported that there are three unemployed workers in Alberta and Saskatchewan for every two job vacancies. Government policy should aim to create more jobs, rather than send more jobless workers west.

Erin Weir, economist, United Steelworkers, Toronto.

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