Jobs and politics: Devastating data for the incumbent in Quebec

For this tweet, CAQ Leader François Legault was cherry-picking one of the worst data points for Quebec in today’s monthly jobs report from Statistics Canada but he had lots to choose from. It was a very bleak report card for the PQ government of Premier Pauline Marois. The highlight? Statistics Canada found that, in the space of one month between January and February this year, 25,500 jobs disappeared in the province.  

That was easily the worst job creation performance of any of the large provinces. BC had a bad month, too, but only lost 10,000 jobs. Next door to Quebec, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, who may also face the electorate this spring, can point to a tidy little sum of 6,000 net new jobs created. And then there’s Alberta which churned out 19,000 net new jobs.

The unemployment rate in Quebec? Jumped to 7.8% in February compared to 7.5% in January. The national average, meanwhile, stayed at 7%.

Thinking about how Quebec has fared in the last 12 months, the scorecard is not much better. Part-time employment has increased in Quebec by about 47,000 jobs but nearly 50,000 full-time jobs have disappeared in the province. That’s the data point that Legault seized on in his tweet. The result a net job loss for the last 12 months of 2,600.

Again, to contrast with the big province to its west, Ontario has seen the creation of a very healthy 86,000 new full-time jobs in the last 12 months while the ranks of the part-time employed shrank by nearly 30,000 for a net job gain over 12 months of 28,700.

There will be one more of these Statistics Canada jobs reports during the Quebec election campaign. As they come out on the first Friday of every month,  the next one will be published on April 4, just three days before election day. A good report could be a boost to the incumbent. A bad one could help the opposition seal its case that the PQ is unfit to manage to provincial economy.

Some thoughts on today’s numbers that may affect other political debates:

  • Nationally, the headline was a bit of a wash. Just 7,000 jobs lost but the unemployment rate stayed the same at 7 per cent. Now, how can the unemployment rate stay the same if there are job losses? It stayed the same because the size of Canada’s labour force shrank. People either retired, went back to school. or gave up looking for work. The labour force participation rate — the ratio of unemployed and employed persons to the population as a whole — is now 66.2 per cent. Notably, that mark of 66.2 per cent is an all-time low for Stephen Harper’s tenure as prime minister even though that is still a relatively healthy ratio if you look back over the last 50 years. That said, a higher labour force participation rate generally means more taxpayers and that benefits all levels of government who will then have an easier time managing the public purse and providing services or tax breaks that get them re-elected. Next year, as Ottawa balances its budget, we expect the Harper government to make good on its 2011 campaign promise and deliver on income splitting for all. Under the promised scenario, couples with young children at home could decide to move up to $50,000 of income off of the higher-earnings spouse’s tax return and on to the lower-earning spouse. Couple who can do this would save a bundle but there’s a good chance this public policy would tend to decrease the labour force participation rate as some couples might decide this could make the difference in their household being able to have a spouse stay home with young children. The odds of this phenomena happening — lowering an already lowered labour force participation rate — is likely one of the factors that has made Finance Minister Jim Flaherty at least nervous about following through on the income splitting promise.
  • They go to the polls in New Brunswick later this year and both the provincial economy and the provincial treasury have been problems for incumbent Progressive Conservative Premier David Alward. Economic growth has been sluggish and the treasury is bleeding red ink. Today’s jobs report, though, brings faint glimmers of hope. The unemployment rate dropped to 9.8% (still waaaay above the national average of 7%) in February from January’s rate of 9.9%. At 9.8%, February’s unemployment rate is much improved from where it was a year ago at 10.1%  But here, too, we have a story of a shrinking work force which could explain the shrinking unemployment rate. It was 63.3 % a year ago and is now 63.1%. As for job creation, it was positive for the month-over-month number — +1,800 — though most of these were part-time jobs and is now even for the last 12 months. But since Alward’s government took the reins in the fall of 2010, the picture is not good: The labour force is the same size while NB’s population has grown and just 200 new jobs have been created. Hardly a record for an incumbent to boast about.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *