Behind the Numbers

An Initial Response to the Government’s Green Paper on Liquor Options

November 4th, 2014 · · Saskatchewan

Today, the Government of Saskatchewan released its’ Green Paper,“Future Options for Liquor Retailing in Saskatchewan” in anticipation of a province-wide liquor privatization debate. Firstly, the government is to be commended for what is a rather comprehensive document that gives the people of Saskatchewan a distinct set of options to consider for  the future of liquor retailing in the province. Unfortunately, the government’s obvious preference for the privatization option rears its ugly head again and again throughout the document. Most flagrant, is despite recognizing that arguments for and against privatization tend to focus on government revenues, price/selection and social harms, the government spends an awful lot of time on the first two and precious little on the third.

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PPPs: Like using a credit card to buy a house

October 30th, 2014 · · public services, Quebec

On Monday, we published a study in which we estimated how much Quebec could save by putting an end to our unsavoury experience using public-private partnerships (PPP) to manage Montreal’s two university health centres, MUHC and CHUM. Our verdict: savings could reach $4 billion over the next thirty years, i.e. the current PPPs’ duration.

Why the heck did the government of Quebec get bogged down in this type of partnership? Well, on top of a certain liking for privitization, politicians find this formula appealing because it makes it possible to finance new infrastructure without increasing public debt.

However, it’s expensive. As British economist Chris Edwards said, a PPP is “a bit like financing the purchase of a house through a credit card rather than a mortgage”. Just swipe it and voila! But the whole thing sours when you need to start making payments.

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Is Big Oil a big job creator?

October 27th, 2014 · · Employment and Labour

Job creation is high on the oil industry’s list of go-to arguments for increased investment in the oil sands. Energy extraction is a key driver of employment growth, they tell us, and the benefits extend well beyond Alberta. “Almost every community in Canada has been touched by oil sands development through the stimulating impact it has on job creation,” according to the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers.

The industry’s favourite number? 905,000. That’s the projected increase in oil sands jobs in the next two decades, up from a meager 75,000 today, according to an oft-quoted report by the industry-funded Canadian Energy Research Institute (CERI).

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Dear 99%: Universal child care? No thanks; we’re good. Sincerely, the 1%

October 23rd, 2014 · · Child Care, Poverty and Income Inequality, Satire

Some time ago, a white-collar professional acquaintance of mine was temporarily laid off. She was concerned—maybe a bit embarrassed—but not too worried; she had good connections and an impressive CV. She even had some savings. But they certainly wouldn’t last long: she still needed an income.

I asked her if she had applied for EI yet, and she looked at me, shocked.

“I’d never go on EI—that’s for people who really need it,” she told me. “I’ve taken out a line of credit to tide me over.”

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Get back in line, Mr. Premier

October 17th, 2014 · · Health Care, Saskatchewan, Uncategorized

Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall once again stirred the privatization pot yesterday when he took to social media to ask: “Is it time to allow people to pay for their own private MRI’s in Saskatchewan like they can do in Alberta?” The Premier’s twitter trial balloon suggests the government will argue that allowing private, for-profit MRIs will help reduce wait times in the public system. The Premier himself added: “It does make sense that the wait list is going to shrink because those who want to pay will come off that public wait list and they’ll get their MRIs and thereby shortening the wait list for all, whether they want to pay or not.”

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Wage War on Poverty, Not on Teachers and Schools: Poverty and Education in Nova Scotia

October 17th, 2014 · · Maritime Provinces, Nova Scotia, Poverty and Income Inequality

Today is the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty. There is lots of work ahead of us before we achieve that goal.

Poverty rates in Canada are growing and the income gap is widening as more and more of the working force are working for minimum wage, or less than previous years due to the rising costs of living. The most recent report card on child and family poverty in Nova Scotia reports that the child poverty rate in Nova Scotia is 17.3%; the fifth highest in the country.


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$15 child care: Canada’s hottest new political pledge?

October 15th, 2014 · · Alberta, Child Care, Gender Equality, Income Inequality, Maritime Provinces, Poverty and Income Inequality, public services, Quebec, Taxes and Tax Cuts

As Canada’s Twitter elite (economists, pundits, partisans) broke out into a virtual policy brawl over yesterday’s NDP national affordable child care pledge, I couldn’t help but think the party might have hit a political sweet spot.

Of course there were the typical Twitter arguments between Liberals and New Democrats that break out every time one of them makes a political pledge.

But another line of argumentation unfolded on my Twitter news feed – one designed to exploit class tensions. The argument advanced by a few well-off Twitterati asserts that universally accessible, affordable programs, like child care, aren’t progressive because rich people can afford to pay for these services themselves.

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Labour Market Trends: Ontario’s ongoing struggle to recover

October 14th, 2014 · · Employment and Labour, Ontario

Ontario’s unemployment rate dropped in September 2014 to its lowest level since October 2008 – good news or bad?

On the surface, this month’s Statistics Canada numbers could seem like a good news kind of story.

Temporary employment fell.

Part-time employment grew at the same rate as full-time employment.

And, perhaps because of the growth in full-time jobs, even self-employment growth seems to have slowed.

At the same time, it is clear that Ontario’s labour force hasn’t fully recovered from the global economic recession.

Here are a few troubling signs I’m keeping my eye on:

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You say tomato, I say fish: or, why we we treat property taxes differently

October 9th, 2014 · · Ontario, Taxes and Tax Cuts

Recently, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business received some media attention for their report on the relationship between residential and business property taxes in Ontario.

While a step up from the norm (this report is based on some actual data as opposed to a survey of the views of its members) that the CFIB would whinge about taxes is not new, nor is the fact that their results are misleading and contradictory.

Essentially, the CFIB makes one point: that business (commercial and industrial) property tax is higher than residential property tax.

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The Quebec Employers Council’s Report Card: Much Ado About Nothing

October 1st, 2014 · · Corporations

For the fifth consecutive year, the Conseil du patronat (CPQ, Quebec Employers Council) published its report card on prosperity. Once more, Quebec’s grade (C) leads to the impression that it’s not doing enough to foster economic growth.

Taxation is obviously at the heart of critiques, as are the Costs for Employee Compensation and the strong union presence which sets Quebec apart from other Canadian provinces. It’s not very surprising: the CPQ has always put its own interests before those of the population as a whole.

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