All Posts Tagged With: "economy"
Economy built on manufacturing now relies on housing
TORONTO – Two years after graduating from college with an accounting degree, Amanda Coombes expected to be working full-time in her field. Instead, she’s living with her mom and working at McDonald’s.
These days, in hard-hit Ontario, a job is a job.
“It’s hard for us,” Coombes, 23, said of the challenges she and her fellow graduates face in their search for work in their chosen field. Older applicants, some laid off after 25 years in the business, offer life and work experience that make them formidable rivals.
“We’re competing with people who have been trying to find work and have three times the amount of experience as we do.”
Coombes is among the casualties of Ontario’s precipitous decline from the country’s economic engine to its most populous have-not province.
Education increasingly viewed as private, not public good
TORONTO – Canadian students hoping for some financial relief on the cost of their post-secondary education are in for a disappointment over the next few years, a prominent think tank suggests.
A report from the left-leaning Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives forecasts the inflation-adjusted cost of an undergraduate university degree is expected to climb an average of 8.6 per cent over the next four years, extending a trend that has seen the price tag triple over the past two decades.
The inflation-adjusted cost of tuition and other compulsory fees averaged $2,243 across the country in 1990, the report showed. That figure had climbed to $6,254 for the 2012-13 academic year and is projected to keep rising, the centre said, adding the study focused solely on mandatory costs and did not factor in other financial demands such as books, food and accommodation.
The basic cost of an undergraduate degree in 2016-17 is projected to average $6,842, or slightly more than three times 1990 levels, the report said.
Unemployment slides to 7.1 per cent
Canada’s economy finally came out of hibernation last month, pumping out a whopping 95,000 new jobs — the vast majority full-time — in the biggest month of employment growth in more than a decade.
The massive gain was the first major improvement of 2013 and many times greater than economists had expected, dropping the unemployment rate one-tenth of a point to 7.1 per cent.
The impact on the unemployment rate would had been greater but for an almost as large increase in the number of Canadians looking for work.
But there was little to quibble about in the uniformly strong May report, where Statistics Canada saw positives across the board with few exceptions.
All the new jobs came in the private sector and in the employee class — rather than the less desirable self-employment category — and 76,700 of them were full-time.
Canada’s labour market had been seen as struggling in 2013, with the first four months producing a net loss of 13,000 jobs, attributed to the poor economic performance during the second half of last year.
Fifth of employers plan to add workers
Canadian employers expect the hiring climate to hold steady in the second quarter, dipping slightly from the previous quarter, according to an employment survey by Manpower Inc.
The poll of 1,900 employers from various sectors found that 20 per cent plan to hire workers in the three-month period from April to June.
Five per cent said they anticipate cutbacks to hiring, while 75 per cent said they will keep existing staffing levels.
Overall, the poll found that the net employment outlook was 12 per cent, a small decline of one percentage point from the first quarter of 2013.
Unemployment rate at four-year low
The Canadian economy created 40,000 jobs in December — all of it in full-time work — and drove the unemployment rate to its lowest in four years, Statistics Canada said Friday.
Ontario accounted for about three-quarters of the jobs added across Canada in December and almost all of the other provinces either saw gains or stayed even. The only exception was Nova Scotia, which lost 5,000 jobs.
“We’ve seen pretty good numbers in four of the last five months, so it does look like there is a bit of strength percolating up late in 2012,” said Doug Porter, the Bank of Montreal’s deputy chief economist.
He noted the month-to-month moves in the overall number of jobs can be volatile.
Waterloo researchers chart the decline
Canada’s economy may well be muddling through, but on a more personal level, Canadians generally are not, a new study of well-being suggests.
The Canadian Well-being Index, led by researchers at the University of Waterloo, shows that quality of life in Canada deteriorated by 24 per cent between the onset of recession in 2008 and 2010.
Canada’s main economic indicator, gross domestic product, only declined by about 8.3 per cent over the same period and began to make a turnaround by the end of 2010.
“When Canada’s economy was thriving, Canadians only saw modest improvements in their overall quality of life,” said former Saskatchewan premier Roy Romanow, who is co-chair of the index’s advisory board.
Kristen Stewart, TIFF, Jimmy Kimmel is mean & bubble tea
1. Maclean’s, headquartered in the city currently known as TIFF, has a team working to bring you the latest news on films and celebrities right here. You thought Kristen Stewart, that famous double-timer, would steal all the attention? Well, she sure did. Bruce Willis and Joseph Gordon Levitt, whose sci-fi flick Looper opened the festival, were also popular on the red carpet last night.
2. While we’re on the topic of TIFF, intrepid Maclean’s reporter Jessica Allen is seeing Spring Break today. It’s the movie students everywhere are talking about—and I can see why. It has a classic plot: Selena Gomez and friends rob a restaurant so that they can party in Florida, but get busted for drugs and then have to rely on James Franco to bail them out of prison.
3. Comedian Jimmy Kimmel launched a segment on his show called “Hey Jimmy Kimmel, I Got My Kid a Horrible Back-to-School Outfit.” Not everyone thinks it’s funny. Parents taped the horrified reactions of kids given embarrassing back-to-school clothes. The segment included more than a few homophobic stereotypes, including one t-shirt that says “I’m So Gay I Sh*t Rainbows.”
Positions are lower-quality and Ontario loses ground
Canada’s economy hammered out a surprisingly healthy 34,300 new jobs last month, topping expectations of only modest gains and completely reversing the previous month’s setback.
Analysts had expected the economy to add only about 10,000 jobs in August, reflecting the slow pace of growth and risk-filled nature of the global outlook.
The details of the August jobs report from Statistics Canada were not as strong as the headline number suggested, however, as all the gains were part-time jobs. As well, there were heavy losses in the goods producing sector, which generally pays higher wages.
Report offers some excellent reasons to stay in school
We knew young people were having a hard time keeping jobs and finding new ones since the 2009 recession. But a TD Economics report by Francis Fong shows just how bad the job market still is:
“The economic recovery has been almost non-existent for younger Canadians (those aged 15-24 years). They accounted for more than half of all net job losses during the recession and employment still stands some 250,000 below its pre-recession peak. In contrast, jobs held by those over the age of 25 years are more than 400,000 above its level prior to the downturn.”
Students care less about education and the environment than their future standard of living
Every election campaign season, experts suggest that the best way for political parties to rock the youth vote is to focus on “the student issues”—often defined as tuition and the environment. Omeed Asadi, a third-year communications student at York University, hears it all the time. “In Vari Hall, which you have to cross to get to pretty much every class, there’s always the York Federation of Students rallying against high tuition, or green activists against pollution,” he says. “Don’t get me wrong. I respect those issues. But I don’t think that’s all there is to it.” Asadi also cares about health care, the tenor of parliamentary discourse and fiscal responsibility.
He’s not the only young Canadian who thinks there’s more at stake in this election than tuition hikes and the health of the planet, according to an exclusive new poll from the Historica-Dominion Institute. The survey asked 831 youth between the ages of 18 to 24 what issues concerned them. Participants were given 10 statements, each capturing a different election issue, and asked to rank them from most to least concerning. Turns out the average young voter is a lot more like Asadi than the student activists making all the noise. “They’re certainly thinking of longer-term issues earlier in their lives than we would have thought,” says Jeremy Diamond, a director at Historica-Dominion.
The most common concern for youth? “That my standard of living will be lower than my parents,” which 63 per cent ranked in their top three concerns. This was consistent across party lines and from coast to coast, although it was significantly more common among young people in the economically stagnant Atlantic region (75 per cent). “We tend to think of students as idealistic,” says Diamond, “but this shows an overriding worry that they won’t be as successful as their parents.”
Dietlind Stolle, a McGill University political scientist, cautions that the “standard of living” statement is likely capturing more than just economic concerns. That may be true, but it’s not the only evidence from the survey that shows students are worried about the country’s financial footing. “Fear of another economic recession” is a concern of 43 per cent, ranking it third. In fact, youth put the country’s bank accounts far ahead of their own; “paying for my post-secondary education” is a top-three concern of just 18 per cent.
This heavy focus on the economy doesn’t surprise Janni Aragon, a political scientist at the University of Victoria, who studies young voters. “The millennials are keenly aware of the economy,” she says. “A lot of my own students worry that after graduation they’ll have to move back in with their parents, because they won’t be able to afford an apartment, God forbid a house.” Economic worries, surprisingly, are especially prevalent among left-leaning students. Among respondents, recessions are top of mind for 63 per cent of Green supporters, 48 per cent of those who plan to vote for the NDP, 45 per cent of Liberal supporters, and just 27 per cent of young Tories.
It isn’t that they’re concerned with finding work—“getting a job or keeping my current job” was only in the top-three lists of eight per cent—so much as fear about the economic burden they may inherit. “Paying off the national debt” is a top-three concern for 24 per cent.
The second-biggest concern for youth overall is “that the health care system won’t be there for me when I need it.” In British Columbia and Atlantic Canada, 58 per cent prioritize this concern. Overall, 49 per cent listed it in their top three. Jessica Wong, a first-time voter at McGill University, says health care is the issue that has the biggest influence on her vote, though she admits it’s an issue she has never discussed with her peers, unlike tuition or the environment. The 19-year-old chemistry student has little experience with the system, “but I think health care is indicative of how a country treats each other—whether they just look after the rich people or look after everyone.”
Fourth on the list, with nearly one in three (31 per cent) ranking it in their top three, is a concern for “the erosion of democracy.” This was fairly consistent nationwide, though it’s somewhat more pressing in Quebec. The only defence-related option was “foreign threats to Canada,” which 23 per cent made a top-three concern. “I would have expected it to be lower,” says Aragon, citing the stereotype of young people as pacifists. That said, she wasn’t surprised to learn that Alberta has the highest percentage of young hawks (32 per cent).
Only near the bottom of the list do the so-called “student issues” appear. Less than one in five (18 per cent) say that “paying for my post-secondary education” is a top-three concern. But the biggest surprise is how few put the environment as a top priority. Only 13 per cent of youth agree “that the environment will be ruined without more action,” putting it second from the bottom. More shocking is that in English Canada, the students who care most about the Earth are far more likely to say they’ll vote Conservative (23 per cent) than Liberal (eight per cent), NDP (eight per cent), or even Green (seven per cent).
Even if it’s not their priority, students still do care greatly about high tuition and the environment. When presented with the statement, “the government should provide more money to help students pay for higher education,” 88 per cent either somewhat or strongly agree. And 86 per cent agree that “the government should be doing more to protect the environment.”
But that’s where the consensus ends. On every other policy position, students are more split. Large numbers “neither agree or disagree” with statements about raising corporate taxes, opening the health care system to more private money, or increasing immigration. “That may indicate,” says Aragon, “a lack of understanding or exposure.”
That’s no doubt a reality for some students, but not for Asadi. He’s read all the platforms and can quote Michael Ignatieff’s about untendered fighter jet contracts and the billion-dollar G20. “It’s so short-sighted to focus only on tuition,” he says. “I’m only in school for one more year. Then everything affects me.”
The online survey of 831 Canadians between the ages of 18 and 24 was conducted on Uthink’s online national research panel between April 8-13. The margin of error is 3.4 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.
Major technology firms are on the hunt for economists
The job most in demand in Silicon Valley lately is not in social networking or marketing, but something slightly less trendy. Major technology firms are on the hunt for economists. Yahoo, Facebook, Amazon.com and eBay are all currently recruiting economists, reports the San Jose Mercury News. Those companies are following the likes of Google and Microsoft, which in recent years have added big-name academics to their staffs, including Hal Varian from University of California, Berkeley and Susan Athey from Harvard University, respectively.
Economists have proven adept at helping tech firms tweak everything from search methods to online advertising platforms—intricate systems that can be manipulated to produce better results, or studied to predict outcomes from different strategies. Tech ﬁrms also tend to be creating entirely new businesses, and sometimes the best person to help explain how traditional markets will react to them is a good old-fashioned economist.
Fewer jobs. Lower pay. Higher taxes. Now the Screwed Generation is starting to push back.
This January, the first baby boomers turn 65. The huge post-Second World War generation—which numbers 76 million in the United States, makes up almost a third of Canada’s population, and according to one estimate, controls 80 per cent of Britain’s wealth—will continue to enter their dotage at the rate of tens of thousands per day for the next 20 years. By 2050, there will be 30 million Americans aged 75 to 85, three in 10 Europeans will be 65-plus, and more than 40 per cent of Japan’s population will be elderly. In Canada, the ratio of workers to retirees—currently five to one—will have been halved by 2036. And despite the odd dissenter, the generation that still oddly finds Paul McCartney relevant has made clear its intention to take everything it feels it has coming. It will be up to all who trail in their wake to pay for their privilege.
Common sense, not to mention decency, wouldn’t call that just. But an outsized, over-entitled, and self-obsessed demographic is awfully hard for politicians to ignore. Take Britain’s example. In last spring’s general election, the most effective ad run by David Cameron’s Conservatives was also one of the simplest: a close-up of a newborn baby, wriggling in a bassinet as a music box tinkled in the background. “Born four weeks ago, eight pounds, three ounces. With his dad’s nose, mum’s eyes, and Gordon Brown’s debt,” intoned a female voice. “Thanks to Labour’s debt crisis, every child in Britain is born owing £17,000. They deserve better.” The point was impossible to miss: the time had come to stop mortgaging the country’s future.
As his first act, the new prime minister, a 44-year-old Gen Xer, cut his and his ministers’ pay by five per cent, and froze all their salaries for five years. Tackling the U.K.’s $177.5-billion budget deﬁcit and $1.6-trillion-plus national debt—annual interest payments alone stand at $70 billion—would require everyone to sacrifice, he told Britons. But there were also expectations that the burden wouldn’t be equally shared. After all, one of Cameron’s leading wonks, David “Two Brains” Willetts, now the minister for universities and science, had published a rather pointed manifesto, The Pinch: How the Baby Boomers Took Their Children’s Future—and How They Can Give It Back, just before the election. After their victory, Thomas Friedman, the New York Times columnist, applauded the coming reckoning for a generation—his own—that had “eaten through all that abundance like hungry locusts.” And even as the new government’s chancellor of the exchequer, George Osborne, stood before Parliament in mid-October to announce $131 billion in spending cuts over the next four years—and the elimination of as many as 500,000 public sector jobs—the protect-the-youth rhetoric continued. “Today’s the day when Britain steps back from the brink,” he said, ensuring “that we do not saddle our children with the interest on the interest on the interest of the debts we were not ourselves prepared to pay.”
The reality, however, proved to be somewhat different. The age when U.K. citizens can start drawing old-age pension would gradually increase from 65 to 66, but other entitlements like free eye tests and prescriptions for the elderly would remain untouched, as well as winter fuel allowances, and free local transit for anyone over 60. Among the biggest budget losers was the department for education, facing an overall reduction of 10.8 per cent, which according to one economic think tank will translate to funding cuts for 60 per cent of primary schools, and 87 per cent of secondary schools. And the legacy of “Two Brains” for Britain’s shafted youth? A 40 per cent cut to post-secondary teaching grants, and a doubling—or in some cases, tripling—of tuition, to as much as $14,500 a year.
On Nov. 10, more than 50,000 angry students gathered in London to rally against the cuts. A video of Nick Clegg, the Liberal-Democrat leader and deputy prime minister, promising to do away with university fees during the election campaign, was greeted with choruses of “wanker, wanker.” “They’re proposing barbaric cuts that would brutalize our colleges and universities,” said Aaron Porter, the president of the National Union of Students. “We’re in the fight of our lives. We face an unprecedented attack on our future before it has even begun.” Later on, a crowd of several thousand descended on the Conservative Party headquarters, trading punches with police, smashing windows, lighting fires, and for a time, occupying the building.
“The situation for young people is not terribly good,” Ed Howker, a 29-year-old London journalist and author, says in a classic bit of British understatement. “And there’s no sense from the government that they have the interests of the next 30 or 40 years of Britons in mind.” Of the country’s 2.45 million unemployed, close to 60 per cent are under the age of 30.The new budget has not only frozen civil service hires, it scrapped two youth jobs funds, slashed rent subsidies, and cut the money for new housing by half. Howker, who along with Shiv Malik wrote the just-released Jilted Generation: How Britain Bankrupted its Youth, says the sense of despair is becoming overwhelming. “Our generation just seems to be a lot worse off. In terms of key things like getting stable housing, or a well-paid job, or a successful career, we just don’t have it.” The boomers’ aren’t evil, he says, but they nonetheless bear much of the responsibility. The generation that relentlessly mythologizes its “peace and love” heyday became ardent consumers as they aged, and ended up moulding politics in their “me-first” image. “It’s a consumer version of democracy, where politicians realized that if they merely satisfied the short-term desires of their electorate, rather than think in the long term and make good decisions on behalf of the future of the country, they would win elections,” Howker argues. The bills become somebody else’s problem.
Want a scary number? How about $1.5 trillion, the amount the C.D. Howe Institute estimates Canada’s rapidly aging boomers are going to cost Ottawa and the provinces in extra health and pension expenses over the next 50 years. Or perhaps 2,500, the number of new long-term care facilities the Canadian Medical Association says will be needed to accommodate the doubling of Canada’s 65-plus population in two decades. Sixty thousand is how many RNs the Canadian Nurses Association predicts we will be short by 2022. Or maybe just one per cent, the expected annual amount of real per-capita GDP growth in Canada over the next 30 years as boomers leave the work force—less than half of what we’ve experienced over the past four decades.
Combine a demographic bulge with a falling birth rate and ever-increasing life expectancy (now 80.7 years at birth in Canada), and pretty much all the figures start looking ugly. “We have a significant challenge ahead of us,” says Chris Ragan, a professor of macroeconomics and economic policy at McGill. “The tax base will slow down, and spending will speed up. We can’t just do nothing.”
Falling markets and rising tuition have the old trust seeking new donations
After spending a lifetime amassing a fortune with questionable means, Cecil Rhodes, a diamond magnate in colonial Africa, left one unquestionably good thing after he died in 1902: a bequest of over £3 million, roughly equivalent to half a billion in today’s dollars, for students from abroad to study at his alma mater, Oxford University. Over 100 years and 7,000 Rhodes Scholars later, though, that money is down to about $186 million. The bequest, reads an April online note by the Rhodes Trust, which administers the scholarship, “needs to be supplemented to secure [our emphasis] and improve the Rhodes Scholarships for the future.” Gifts of the magnitude of $1 million per individual donor were “warmly encouraged.”
The turn to fundraising represents a major shift for the trust, which has traditionally relied on investment to preserve and supplement its capital. Benefactions from the illustrious community of Rhodes alumni, which includes Bill Clinton, Canada’s former governor general Roland Michener, and former PM John Turner, are not new, but shrill calls for donations came only after the trust lost nearly $70 million in the 2008-2009 financial crisis, a drop of around 27 per cent in the net value of its assets.
“We’re drawing money from the principal,” says director of advancement Krista Slade, who is helping to engineer the trust’s fundraising campaign. Though there are no plans to resize the scholarship program, she says, the trust needs to at least double the size of its endowment by the end of the decade to “be competitive.” That means raising a minimum of $160 million by 2020.
It’s an onerous sum to ask of the small Rhodes community, whose living members number around 4,500, many of whom went on to earn middle-range salaries in academia or the public sector. But Slade says the trust is counting on its influential cadre of alumni to help reach out to outside benefactors as well. The scholars’ response has mostly been warm. “I haven’t heard anyone say anything other than, ‘Good, I’ll be very happy to contribute,’ ” says L. Yves Fortier, a lawyer in Montreal and Rhodes Scholar who served as Canada’s ambassador and permanent representative to the United Nations. A Rhodes Scholarship is a life-changing affair, he says, and people are eager to give back. Toronto Centre MP Bob Rae, also a Rhodes Scholar, agrees. The trust’s financial performance “hasn’t been as robust as everybody would have liked,” he says, and “taking the bull by the horns” with a major fundraising effort makes sense.
But for others, the fact that the trust was asking for money was a shock. Now that “they’re trying to raise a buck along with everybody else,” the myth of the “infinitely wealthy” Rhodes Scholarship has been damaged, says scholar Philip Slayton, author of Lawyers Gone Bad and a contributor to Maclean’s. And as scholars dig into their wallets and work their connections to get others to chip in, they are also raising the hard questions. First of all: how did we get here?
The major culprits, according to warden of the Rhodes House Donald Markwell, are volatile markets (where the trust took a beating in the dot-com bust and the global financial crisis), and ballooning university tuitions, which have been rising across the U.K.
Some, though, are questioning the soundness of the trust’s investment strategy. Despite the intellectual firepower behind the trust, says Slayton, maybe it “didn’t do such a good job after all.” And even if losing money was unavoidable, “you’d think they would have rebounded,” at least after the dot-com bust, says scholar and Foreign Affairs magazine senior editor Sasha Polakow-Suransky. (The Rhodes Trust declined a request to see financial reports for the early 2000s; its 2010 annual report is not available yet.)
Others are wondering whether “mandate creep” is also a reason for the red ink. A program for 57 young men in its early days, the scholarship has welcomed 81 students this year and even more in previous years. New commitments included the creation in 2002 of the Mandela Rhodes Foundation for African scholarships. The trust’s pledge to give it $16 million over 10 years sparked divisions among scholars that made headlines.
University of Toronto president David Naylor says he would ask the trust, “show me what the cost is of the new programs and commitments,” although he adds he would probably “put some money in the kettle.”
And even in the tightly knit Rhodes community, money, as it often does, is coming with strings attached. Stepped-up fundraising almost coincided with an organizational reshaping this year that sets a minimum quota of scholar members in, among others, the board of trustees. “If we’re going to tap scholars for money,” former ambassador Fortier says, part of the reasoning was, “we’ll have to give them more voice.”
The social and economic consequences of letting boys fall behind
The trick to having a baby girl, according to researchers in the Netherlands, is a calcium- and magnesium-rich diet, full of hard cheese, rhubarb, spinach, canned salmon and tofu. It’s also important, claim the authors of the study, for women to steer clear of salty foods, potatoes and bananas. Though the study was based on a small sample, it wouldn’t be a shock if the results prompted prospective parents to stock their fridges accordingly.
As Robert Bly and others prophesied in the 1990s, when they retreated to the woods to beat drums and exhort men to embrace their inner caveman, the modern male is in danger of losing his way. The process apparently begins early. On average, boys earn lower marks, study less, and are more likely to repeat a grade than girls. Young men are more likely to drop out of high school and less likely to graduate university than young women. And while they still dominate in engineering and computer science, men are outnumbered in most professional programs, including law and medicine.
Today, the average Canadian university campus is 58 per cent female. In fact, at some schools, men only make up about 30 to 35 per cent of the students. “Any country allowing 60/40 female-male college graduation rates is not putting its ‘best team’ forward,” argues Richard Whitmire, author of Why Boys Fail. “Men need a degree just to get to the starting line.
College has become the new high school; that degree is what employers look for as a guarantee of basic social and communication skills.”
Nobody worth listening to is calling for society to turn back the clock on the advances made by women in the last 40 years. Writing in the Observer last year, Bahram Bekhradnia, director of the London-based Higher Education Policy Institute, warned against simply ignoring the gap.
“It matters in the same way that 30 years ago it mattered that fewer girls went to university than boys,” he wrote. “Graduates, after all, tend to form the elites of society and, as women have come to dominate in higher education, we should expect these elites to change gender over time, too. That itself is no bad thing. What is intolerable is that significant numbers of young (and not so young) people are excluding themselves—or perhaps being excluded because of aspects of our school system—from joining these elites.”
Indira Samarasekera, the president of the University of Alberta, was more direct when she described the gender gap at post-secondary schools to the Edmonton Journal as a “demographic bomb.” She went on to say that programs to encourage female CEOs should take a backseat to a much bigger concern: “that we’ll wake up in 20 years and we will not have the benefit of enough male talent at the heads of companies and elsewhere.”
This is not to say that women run the world—yet. There’s no denying that a wage gap—and a glass ceiling—persists in the workplace. In Canada, even a young woman with a university degree earns about 90 cents to every dollar earned by a man with a similar level of education.
But women now experience lower unemployment rates than men, and one large-scale American study showed the start of the kind of change it has taken generations to accomplish. It found that childless urban women under the age of 30 earn, on average, eight per cent more than their male peers. The gap is even wider in places like New York City (17 per cent) and Los Angeles (12 per cent). Whether these same young women continue to lead the next decade will depend largely on how many of them decide to stay home full-time to raise children, or even just get off the fast track by moving to part-time. Still, a lot more young women than men have been able to take advantage of the higher earnings that come with higher levels of education.
As the number of stay-at-home dads has tripled in the last three decades, women are more and more the family’s primary breadwinners, a trend sped up by the recession, which struck male-dominated industries, including manufacturing and construction, the hardest. Men accounted for an estimated 71 per cent of the 400,000 jobs lost in Canada during the downturn. Thanks to a commitment to education, young women seem better positioned for the knowledge- and service-based economy of the future. The majority of the job sectors expected to grow the most in North America during the next decade are ones traditionally filled by women, such as nursing.
For the government relying on academic research is bad politics
An outsider to Stephen Harper’s Ottawa might easily be forgiven for assuming that this summer’s uproar over the Prime Minister’s decision to scrap the long-form census was an isolated event. How could a debate, no matter how heated, over the way government gathers statistics signify much beyond the argument’s own peculiar details? But ask prominent scientists and researchers who’ve struggled to influence federal policy over the past few years, and they’ll quickly link the census flap to wider misgivings about how the Harper government uses data and evidence—or refuses to—in shaping policy.
On sensitive files from crime to health, taxation to climate, the Harper government has often clashed with experts who argue the fruits of their research are undervalued by the Conservatives in the development of new laws and regulations. “I think,” says Gordon McBean, a University of Western Ontario geography professor and internationally respected climate-change scientist, “there is a significant problem—unwillingness to entertain, or invite, or listen to, people who are experts in their fields and want to provide advice and guidance to the government.”
Since he’s a prominent advocate for cutting greenhouse gas emissions, McBean might be suspected of merely having an axe to grind, considering the Harper government’s track record of hesitant steps, at most, on the global warming file. But it’s not just that frustrated academics turn resentful when Conservatives look skeptically, even dismissively, at the recommendations that flow from their work. In fact, the Prime Minister and some of his closest advisers have occasionally expressed reservations about letting expert views directly inform their policies.
During the 2008 election campaign, Harper boasted that his party’s platform was grounded in real-world experience. “Grand blueprints that have been done on the blackboard,” he said, “endorsed by experts with no practical experience in the economy or society, are disastrous.” Harper added that he had steered away from that kind of expert-approved policy-making, at precisely the point when Stéphane Dion, then Liberal leader, was moving his party toward it with his elaborate “green shift” plan to tax carbon.
Painful experience lay behind Harper’s conscious move away from the influence of academic research. His former chief of staff, Ian Brodie, talked candidly about the transition at Montreal’s McGill University last year, in a panel discussion on the role of evidence in policy-making. Brodie recounted how Harper had run in the 2004 election on a tax-cuts platform carefully constructed along lines favoured by tenured economists. “We promised a comprehensive system of moving brackets around, cutting bracket rates, multi-year this, multi-year that, a corporate income tax cut as well,” he said. “A program so well thought out that even the people who wrote it can’t remember the details now.”
The Conservatives lost that election. The setback, Brodie explained, led Harper and his advisers to radically rethink their approach. By the 2006 campaign, Harper was pitching a simple idea, cutting the Goods and Services Tax, which was almost unanimously opposed by mainstream economists. But if experts would have overwhelmingly preferred reducing the tax burden on income and investment, voters liked the sound of Harper’s uncomplicated pledge to slash the widely resented consumption tax. That GST promise helped them win, and Harper’s team learned to treat conventional wisdom among specialists with a certain disdain.
On another key Tory policy theme—law and order—Brodie touted conflict with academics as good politics. Most university criminologists say there’s no evidence to back up the Tories’ heavy emphasis on imposing longer prison terms. They point to studies showing that more jail time doesn’t reduce crime. At the McGill panel, though, Brodie said voters tend to side with Conservatives when they argue with “sociologists, criminologists, defence lawyers and Liberals” about prison terms. “Politically, it helped us tremendously,” he said, “to be attacked by this coalition of university types.”
So not only do Harper’s advisers suspect that following expert advice leads to unsaleable policies, they also think battling the experts can boost their popular standing. In the census controversy they seem willing, almost eager, to take on virtually the entire Canadian research establishment. Among the many groups arguing for keeping the mandatory long-form census, which Harper is turning into a less reliable voluntary survey, are the Canadian Economics Association’s executive, the C.D. Howe Institute’s president, the Canadian Medical Association Journal, and the Canadian Institute of Planners.
The National Statistics Council found itself in perhaps the strangest position. The 40-member expert group is appointed by the government, supposedly to provide advice on statistical matters. But when it came to deep-sixing the long-form census—the most consequential federal policy change on stats in memory—the council was kept entirely in the dark until the decision was announced. One of its best-known members, former Finance Department and TD Bank Financial Group economist Don Drummond, said discovering they had been frozen out was “shocking.”
Recession drives the biggest spike in enrolment since 2003
Despite the shaky job market for university grads during the recession, or because of it, new enrolment figures show about 38,000 more students enrolled in Canadian universities this fall over last.
About 870,000 full-time students enrolled this year, an increase of 29,000 undergraduates and 9,000 graduate students from last year, according to figures released by the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada.
Herb O’Heron, a senior adviser at the AUCC, says it’s the biggest increase in enrolment since 2003 and the recession is driving demand for spots.
“Part of it is the recognition of the value of a degree,” he said. “Even in the midst of a recession, the jobs for university graduates continue to rise.”
Students and professors say they are encouraged by the display of faith in higher education, but remain skeptical about whether universities can deliver what they promise.
The spike in enrolment is occurring as cash-strapped governments make cuts to already underfunded universities, which, they say, degrades the quality of education for students who continue to pay sky high tuition fees.
James Turk, executive director of Canadian Association of University Teachers says while the government recognizes that education is key to economic recovery, it is not placing enough emphasis on funding.
To reach the funding level seen in the 1980s, when there were fewer university students, the government would need to increase funding by $4.2 billion a year, Turk said.
Meanwhile, as enrolment increases, universities cram students into the seats and aisles of already packed lecture halls, which degrades the quality of education students receive for their money.
It’s not all romance: wine producers must master chemistry and agriculture
Soured on the real estate market, Columbia broker Bob Walters has found what he hopes is a more fruitful pursuit: growing grapes for wine. Downsized banker Mary Becker also is dabbling in the business, planting vines on the 120 acres south of Kansas City.
The aspiring vintners recently joined more than 60 others from eight states at the University of Missouri’s first Wine School, which teaches the tools of a trade that has been growing exponentially. The federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau reports a 50 per cent increase in the number of U.S. wine producers from about 3,900 in 2004 to about 5,800 in 2008.
Missouri, one of the nation’s leading wine producers before Prohibition, has seen similar growth, and instructors at the University of Missouri say rising unemployment could encourage even more oenophiles to try to turn their hobby into a new career.
“I was quite blown away by how everyone around here was a backyard winemaker,” said Rebecca Ford Kapoor, a New Zealand wine maker who two years ago joined the university’s Institute for Continental Climate Viticulture & Enology.
The school, which focuses on grape growing and winemaking in the Midwest, offers a one-day introductory class and an advanced, three-day course. The one-day session includes an obligatory winery visit (Les Bourgeois in Rocheport) and wine tasting. But most of the time is devoted to laboratory sessions involving beakers and flasks, tips on cellar operations and sanitation and tutorials on identifying and preventing flaws in the winemaking process.
Becker said she and her husband went into winemaking inspired but without technical acumen.
“We had no idea what we were doing,” the Holden resident said. “It’s been a real trial and error.”
Others enrolled in Kapoor’s course quickly realized the business involved more than careering through Napa Valley in a convertible or comparing vintages in a friend’s basement cellar. Successful wine producers must master chemistry and agriculture, she said.
“People think it’s all going to be romantic,” Kapoor said. “It’s actually really hard, dirty, exhausting work.”
Most lost jobs expected to be in operations, trades, advisory and technical positions
According to The Calgary Herald, University of Calgary has announced it might have to cut up to 200 job by September.
In an internal memo circulated Tuesday, school president Harvey Weingarten says the university needs to trim its budget by at least three per cent in all units and faculties in light of a $14.3-million shortfall. By law, the university is not allowed to run a deficit.
Weingarten says the cuts have primarily been caused by poor market performance caused by the economic downturn, which has adversely affected return on endowment funds that support various programs, plus the school’s pension fund. The endowment fund is down by $40.4 million, since hitting a last year’s high of $411 million.
“A significant portion of the university budget, approximately 60 per cent, pays for the salaries and benefits of our employees,” wrote Weingarten. “Given this reality, there is simply no possibility of ensuring that a balanced budget, once achieved, is sustainable unless we reduce our number of support and academic staff.”
Weingarten says he anticipates the school will have to cut the jobs of up to 200 people by the fall and that it’s likely there will be more reductions later. He says the actual numbers will depend on many factors, such as future government grants, tuition levels, endowment performance, salary and benefit settlements.
U of C’s faculty association president Anne Stalker told the Herald that staff members are “obviously very worried” about the job cuts and the long-term affect on programs.
“It makes it a less pleasant place to work,” she said. “They also think [the university brass] haven’t been thinking ahead. They should have planned more so it didn’t take everybody by surprise.
The greatest job losses are expected to effect the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees, which represents some 4,265 university staff in operations, trades, advisory and technical positions. “Of course, we don’t like it,” says AUPE president Doug Knight.
“The university has put a lot of their shortfalls on last year’s budget. A lot of the money lost is from the worldwide financial crisis, where it was inevitable something was gonna break. Their funding shortfall is because of endowments and they really shouldn’t be relying on endowment funding.”
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School president says she ignored rules because “so many others were doing the same thing”
In a troubled economy that has left thousands of out of work and looking to second careers, Ontario has an obligation to crack down on unregistered private career colleges run by “rogue operators,” the province’s ombudsman said Tuesday.
Andre Marin was investigating Bestech Academy, which operated out of Stoney Creek, Ont., and St. Catharines, Ont., offering gas technician technology courses.
Despite several warnings from the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities that Bestech should not be operating without being registered, president June Ballegeer operated Bestech unregistered for two years, between 2006 and 2008, the report notes.
When such schools fail financially and abruptly close their doors, as Bestech did, students are left in debt with incomplete studies and little recourse, Marin said.
“Registration and program approval are the linchpins of student protection under the Private Career Colleges Act,” he said in his report.
“If a school or program is not approved, then students are out of luck,” and can try pursuing a small claims court action.
Meanwhile, the ministry actually paid – through the Ontario Skills Development Program – for some students to attend, allowing Bestech to “line its pockets with public funds while flouting the law,” Marin said in the report.
“I’m concerned about its systemic failure to enforce the rules governing private colleges – to the point that Bestech’s president told us that she essentially ignored them because so many others were doing the same thing,” Marin said at a press conference.
“The fact is, the ministry has never laid a charge or prosecuted an illegal college.”
The ministry said 23 colleges have closed since new legislation came into effect in 2006, 15 of them regulated, eight unregulated, after “some interaction” with the ministry.
Marin could not estimate the number of illegal colleges in the province, but said it is “significant,” and that Bestech is certainly not alone. The situation takes on an even greater urgency in the economic downturn, he said.
If you’re staggering under student debt, bankruptcy might not be the best way out
According to a recent article in the The Toronto Star, the federal government’s Bankruptcy and Insolvency act makes it pretty difficult to dodge student loans through bankruptcy.
If you really want to declare bankruptcy, business writer James Daw says you’d better have a good excuse for not paying, “even after the five to seven years… that the legislation allows for such debts to be wiped clear.” Students must allow show that they tried in “good faith” to repay the loans and are now absolutely unable to pay.
After one 29-year-old medical student suffered a traumatic brain injury while cycling in Vietnam after graduation, she still owed Royal Bank $134,000, which was partially to cover her student loans. She was granted a discharge of those debts, and is now living on social assistance.
But, according to The Star, not everyone who asks for bankruptcy will qualify.
One Mississauga woman raised a 16-year-old son on her own until he decided to move in with his father. Although she currently makes about $53,000 a year, she declared bankruptcy in 2000 when she owed student loans totalling $21,000.
According to the bankruptcy registar, the woman made a few questionable decisions, which included selling her 12-year-old car and leasing a new Volkswagen to commute from Mississauga to her downtown Toronto job and to visit her son in Ottawa. She also provided her son with a cellphone.
Most Canadians would find it troubling that she wanted to be free of loans for the education that helped her find her job and qualify for a public sector pension, said the registrar. “There is no good reason why repayment of the loans for those studies ought not be made, over a lengthy period of time, perhaps even… her working life.”