Last week auditor general Mike Ferguson made it official: the federal government was using unreliable statistics to support its claim that Canada had plenty of jobs but no workers with the skills to fill them.
The first clue that something was wrong came last August. Speaking at a policy conference in Kingston, economist Don Drummond said he had combed Canada’s labour market statistics looking for indications of a serious shortage of skilled workers — which Prime Minister Stephen Harper had called “the biggest challenge our country faces” — and failed to find any credible evidence if a misalignment between the skills of Canadians and the needs of employers.
That sent a ripple of unease through the economic community, but the government stood fast, bringing in thousands of temporary foreign workers to fill the jobs for which Canadians were not trained and promoting the centrepiece of its 2013 budget: a controversial Canada Job Grant, which required the provinces to surrender control over workforce training.
The second trouble signal came eight weeks later. The Toronto Dominion Bank did its own analysis. It found isolated skill shortages in Saskatchewan and Alberta but no widespread mismatch between workers’ qualifications and employers’ needs.
“Perceptions can take on a life of their own without hard underlying facts,” said the bank’s deputy chief economist, Derek Burleton. “With data in hand, we debunk the notion that Canada is facing an imminent skill crisis.”
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