Unemployment is down. But is this a good thing?


According to a news report published by the Canadian Press, the unemployment rate in January 2015 went down to 6.6%. Over 47,000 jobs were created last month. This is good news, right? Well, not really. If you take a closer look at the numbers, the news doesn’t look as promising.

First, the economy shed nearly 12,000 jobs in January. That means there was only a net increase of 35,000 jobs. But most of the 12,000 jobs that were lost were full-time positions, and the majority of the 47,000 jobs created were part-time. These numbers reflect a growing dependence on part-time workers rather than full-time staff.

Unfortunately, this is not a new trend. In 1997 there were about 25,000 part-time employees looking for full-time work. In 2013 that number went up to well over 100,000 people, a 300% increase in only 15 years. This number does not include people who prefer part-time over full-time work. These people are actively seeking a full-time job but can’t find it.

This can be a frustrating experience for a lot of people. Full-time work offers a level of stability that part-time work simply doesn’t offer. Full-time employee are more likely to receive better vacation time, superior health and dental benefits, higher pay, and enhanced job security.

It was welcome news when Ontario’s Labour Minister Kevin Flynn announced the Ontario Government will be reviewing the province’s labour and employment laws, particularly the Employment Standards Act.

The Workers’ Action Centre, a labour rights group, felt this was a step in the right direction. The Action Centre stated the current laws do little to protect part-time workers. In the past companies have lobbied the government to exempt certain workers from basic rights such as minimum wage, overtime pay, and public holiday wages.

Sometimes employers will even misclassify their staff as independent contractors. Those workers lose their legal protection as well as their entitlements to Employment Insurance and the Canada Pension Plan.

Everyone in Ontario deserves a stable, living wage. Employers also need to remember that a happy worker with a stable job will be more productive than a person  employed in precarious work.



The cuts at Tim Hortons have begun!

The cuts at Tim Hortons have begun!

Last year the iconic Canadian company Tim Hortons was bought by Burger King. Many people were worried about what kind of consequences it would have for the company and its stakeholders. And it looks like our fears are coming to life.

Burger King, which is controlled by a Brazilian private equity firm named 3G Capital, has already begun laying off staff at Tim Hortons’ corporate head offices. The business-friendly newspaper the Financial Post said that “tensions are running high” at Tim Hortons. The CBC reported that 350 people have already been laid off, nearly 20% of their head office employees.

This news didn’t surprise too many people. The Financial Post wrote 3G Capital is known to be a “ruthless streamliner” who made big cuts at Burger King and H.J. Heinz after they bought these companies. They didn’t expect Tim Hortons to be any different.

Burger King claims buying Tim Horton’s will help expand the donut company’s operations in the US market. Tim Hortons has tried to penetrate the American market but its efforts have stalled many times. If the expansion efforts don’t work out as planned this time around, 3G Capital might be tempted to begin squeezing the Canadian company by selling off Tim Hortons’ manufacturing and distribution centres. That means even more Canadian jobs will be lost.

It’s hard to see how Canadians will benefit from this merger. No one is really sure if 3G Capital has Tim Hortons best interests at heart. It will do anything it can to make sure it’s profits are upheld – even if it means stripping the company of everything its worth.


What is the best way to control the costs of pharmaceutical drugs?

It appears that Canadian provinces could do a better job controlling generic drug costs. According to a study published by Open Medicine, Canadians are paying much more for generic drugs than people who live in other industrialized countries.

How did it end up this way?

In 2013, Canada’s provinces and territories, with the exception of Quebec, made a deal to pay lower prices for six common generic drugs on the market by buying them together in bulk at 18 percent of the brand name price. The nine provinces claimed the deal would save $100 million.

But the 18 percent price our provinces set was completely arbitrary. Even though Canada did save money, it could have saved a lot more if they adopted the price negotiation techniques used in other countries. Sweden, the United Kingdom, Germany and New Zealand all offer lower generic drug prices than Canada. That’s because they can negotiate with drug companies or put out a call for tender and choose the best offer. Canada can’t do that. We are stuck with the current price.

And the costs can be quite high. For example, citizens of New Zealand pay 87 percent less for the blood pressure drug amlodipine.

High drug prices is one of the big reasons why Canada should implement a national Pharmacare program. Under Pharmacare, prescription drugs would be covered through a publicly-funded system rather than expecting people to pay out of pocket. Canada is the only industrialized nation with universal health insurance but no public coverage of prescription drug costs.


Managing our debt in a progressive way

I came across an interesting article the other day on the Fraser Institute’s website. I have to admit, I usually don’t see eye-to-eye with this organization. It’s a conservative think tank who usually recommends very right-wing solutions to our economic and social problems. But they did write an interesting article about debt, deficits, and the need to control spending.

I found this article interesting because many times conservatives talk about eliminating our deficit but they rarely succeed. In fact, they usually make deficits worse. Take Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney. He tripled Canada’s debt in less than 10 years. It was Liberal Prime Minister Jean Chrétien who successfully reduced our debt to manageable levels. In the United States, debt levels skyrocketed under Presidents Ronald Reagan, George Bush (the elder) and his son George W. Bush.

During the last provincial election Ontario Conservative leader Tim Hudak talked about the need to control spending. He even promised to fire 100,000 civil servants to balance the budget. But how bad is our spending problem? And what can we do to control spending? These questions have a major impact on our healthcare workforce.

Over the past 20 years our financial situation has gotten a lot better. In 1993, 33 cents of every tax dollar Ottawa collected went to paying off interest payments on the debt. Today, only 11 cents of each tax dollar goes to debt servicing. In Ontario, it’s even better at 9 cents.

Personally, I would like Canada and all 13 provinces and territories to eliminate their debts entirely. But it’s not that simple. Our debt reduction efforts since the mid-1990s were sidelined by the Great Recession in 2008. If the Federal and Provincial governments didn’t inject huge amounts of cash into our struggling economy, we may have walked into another Great Depression. It’s only now, six years later, our economy is starting to recover.

And there are different ways to balance your books. While Conservatives are always talk about cutting healthcare, education, social spending, and other programs that we all rely on, there are other ways to increase revenue. There is no reason why we can’t increase taxes on corporations or wealthy individuals who make six-digit salaries. While their incomes have skyrocketed over the past 30 years, there is no reason why they can’t afford to pay more in tax. They certainly can afford it.

Yes, we need to control spending. But let’s take a balanced response. A balanced response means trimming spending and increasing revenue. A balanced response is not gutting our social safety net, including valuable healthcare jobs, that took more than 150 years to build