Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Not Bad Jobs; Just No Careers Either.

Very often, I find myself wondering just what goes through the mind of a Conservative Cabinet Minister before they open their mouths. Clearly, given Jim Flaherty's latest gaffe, the thought process is either incredibly short or non-existent.

In speaking about the job market, Flaherty went on to say that there is no such thing as a bad job. He further put his foot in his mouth by saying that there are a lot of jobs out there, and that Canadians need to take jobs that they consider 'beneath them'.

Surprisingly, Flaherty is right about Canadians not taking jobs that are below them. The problem is that his reasons for thinking those jobs are below Canadians are not sound. As it stands, Flaherty is suggesting that the unemployed in Canada are snobby people who are not willing to work hard and take any job that is open for them.

But this is not the case, and I shall use my own life as an example.

I graduated in 2009 from the University of Saskatchewan. I had gone to college with the understanding that it would open doors and guarantee a career once I was done. But of course, 2009 was one of the epoch years of the economic downturn; and not a very good time to graduate from college. As such, careers in my field seemed to be in a lull and I was left looking for work for very long time.

And yes, it is true, there were certain jobs that I didn't consider applying for. But it wasn't for that fact that I thought those jobs were below me as a college graduate, but rather that those jobs did not provide a living wage.

Take the fast food industry, for example. Making minimum wage, and working forty hours a week, a person would make $380 per week. Times that by four weeks a month, and you are looking at $1,520 a month, before taxes. Now, consider the essential payments that a person would make in a given month.

If you are unfortunate enough to be renting your living space at the time, you rent could be as high as $800 a month. That means you have about $750 for other expenses prior to taxes. Let's factor in a cost of about $120 for groceries for the month; as well as $75 for telephone and internet services; a cost of $80 for power; and $250 in interest payments on student loans, just the interest no payment towards the principal.

That leaves $195 from your monthly paycheque for other expenses, from entertainment to emergency expenses. and anyone who has ever had an emergency expense, let's say a flat tire, can tell you that a spare $195 to your name is not a whole heck of a lot. Even worse, once you consider taxes, EI deductions and other costs on your paycheque, that $195 surplus is going to dwindle even more.

Simply put, a job where you make minimum wage is not enough to cover the actual living expenses of someone who has $40,000 or more in student loan debt.

To cap it off, Flaherty has a gall to add the next part to his argument: That people should be moving where the jobs are.

Above, I showed how someone with only $40,000 in debt would have a hard time living while making only minimum wage in a 'booming' province like Saskatchewan. So now, Flaherty is telling people to abandon the life they have in other provinces and move to new ones instead.

Let's examine how that doesn't work.

As previously mentioned, some rents in Saskatchewan hover around the $800 mark; while others are considerably higher. Not to mention the problem of vacancy rates; consider Regina that has had a vacancy rate hovering around the 1% and lower mark. Despite the idea that there are jobs in Regina, there certainly isn't affordable housing.

So, Flaherty's answer to people who are already in debt and getting deeper, is to get further in debt by undertaking a move across province lines in the hopes of getting a job.

While people might be able to find employment in other provinces, are they going to be able to find housing? Are they going to be able to actually work and get their way out of debt, or are they going to barely keep their head above water one emergency away from financial ruin?

And that brings me to the crux of this argument: Flaherty used a very telling choice of words when he told unemployed Canadians to suck it up and take whatever job you can get; by using the word job, Flaherty has implicitly conceded that the vast majority of Canadians who are currently unemployed are not going to find careers.

As I've mentioned before, careers and jobs have very different meanings. Jobs are the sort of thing we do to gain experience as a bridge to a career. Jobs are a stepping stone, and are meant to be a way of improving our skills and forging connections that allow us to transition into a permanent career. Careers are things that pay above minimum wage, offer benefits (health insurance/dental/optical, retirement plans) and allow a person to pay down their debts while allowing enough financial fluidity that a single major emergency won't break the bank.

Careers are disappearing in this economy, and now our finance minister is telling Canadians that they need to bend over, close their eyes, think of Canada, and take the nearest thing resembling employment they can find.

Implicitly, Flaherty has admitted some defeat in the turn about of Canada's economy. While he won't come out and say it, Flaherty is telling us that this is now the new normal for the average Canadian. Gone are the days where a person who has worked towards improving their lives through college and professional development can find a career with financial security. Instead, regardless of the steps taken, a person is now doomed to forever dwell in the lower rungs of the economy.

This is not about someone thinking a job is below them. This is not about someone being unwilling to take a job because it is in the service industry, or involves labour. This is about people realizing that these jobs will not give them the financial security they need to both pay off their debts and move ahead with their lives. Basically, a person will languish between a choice of paying down their debts or being able to live comfortably.

This is not a choice that someone should have to make in 21st Century Canada.

Finally, I also want to touch on the bias of employers before I end this blog post. I've lived this, so I'd like to think I know what I am talking about. There is an implicit understanding that employers are hesitant to take chances on certain people entering the economy. This includes young people and college graduates, especially in a sector of the economy that they aren't trained for.

Why?

If you had a choice between hiring a former retiree who will work for your company for the next five years; or a college grad, who is likely only looking for a job until they land their career and may only work with your company for a year at most, who would you hire?

These are the things that conservatives like to forget about the economy; that there are standards in the background that we all are aware of, but that people don't really acknowledge. There is a hiring bias and it is indeed affecting people looking to get involved in the economy, especially recent graduates. As mentioned above, businesses who have applicants that are trained in other areas, know that this person is not going to work for them forever.

May as well overlook them, and leave them unemployed, in favour of hiring someone who will work for you for a longer period of time. And you counter this by creating an intelligent economy where people who have gone to university are able to find the careers that they spent the last four years or more studying for.

By creating low level economy jobs, you are leaving people trained for higher economy jobs out in the cold as employers will continue to have an implicit bias about hiring them due to the longevity of their employment. And yet, the Conservatives think that adding only service industry jobs is the answer to stemming unemployment numbers, especially the skyrocketing numbers for those between the ages of 18 and 25.

But the truth is that it is doing nothing to help those people, especially if they are college graduates.

And until we learn to foster an intelligent economy, these people will continue to fall through the cracks. While there may be no thing as a bad job according to Jim Flaherty, we're starting to see a Canada where there's no such thing as a career either.

Monday, May 14, 2012

If I Were A...Conservative?

Today's post deals mostly with subjective reasoning; I've often wondered what my life would be like if I were a Conservative. And that is going to be the subject of today's post.

Now I'm not going to try and defend what this government is doing; rather I'm going to try to understand how Conservatives feel about what this government is doing. Hopefully, it will be an interesting experience.

The first thing we have to realize is that there two types of Conservatives. Firstly, there are social conservatives. Secondly there are any financial conservatives. I will imagine that I am one of each type, but in different moments; so I will examine how a social conservative feels and how a financial conservative would feel about this government.

Firstly, let's identify the keys issues for each type. Social conservatives deal with the 3Gs: Guns, God, and Gays. Whereas financial conservatives deal with taxes, smaller government and economic development.

Let's focus first on social conservatives. In their time in government, the Harper Conservatives have attacked same-sex marriage, recently reopened the abortion day, and have harshened immigration standards. They also undermined social programs that run counter to Judaeo-Christian teachings such as Planned Parenthood, Status of Women and numerous other organizations.

The largest caveat for this government is that the the bulk of its social engineering policies have originated from the backbenchers rather than from the cabinet. For example, the most recent abortion development comes from a backbencher and has been condemned by the Harper front bench.

So, while backbenchers are moving forward on social issues; a social Conservative might be incredibly upset that their leader, the Prime Minister of Canada, does not have enough moral fortitude to stand by what they believed to be his beliefs. As such, social conservatives might be very angry that their leader is choosing to bow to pressure from outsider groups, rather than following the wishes of his own core base.

As mentioned previously, this perceived lack of a moral spine (for lack of a better word) might very well anger social Conservatives who feel that now is the time for the Prime Minister to stand up and champion social issues with a conservative bent.

As such, social conservatives might be happy that their issues are being raised in the House of Commons and the national media, but they are likely equally as upset that these issues have not been spearheaded or even supported by their leader and our Prime Minister.

Social conservatives must therefore live with a level of cognitive dissidence in supporting the conservatives. The caucus is full of members were willing to support these issues they care about, but people with any power in the government benches forsake these positions for political expediency. And for any progress to be made of social issues, the front bench and leadership must be behind the change or no real progress will be made.

Realising this, social conservers must have come to the realisation that their issues are only being given lipservice by caucus backbenchers and that there will be no real action on their issues. This results in nothing more than an attempt to rally the Conservative base with no real intention of moving forward only social issues. Social conservatives will be asking themselves whether or not this is a party that supports the ideas and concerns they have regarding the fabric of Canadian society; and as of this moment, they will find it lacking.

Now that we've come to the conclusion that social conservatives have more to be disappointed about than to celebrate, we can change gears and consider what financial conservatives have to think about that at this government.

Economic conservers are by far the less fickle of the two conservative groups. They want smaller government, less taxes, decreased regulation/government red tape, and a business/investment friendly marketplace.

Economic conservatives pride themselves on the foundational ideas of classical liberalism, by which I mean they think that the government should get out of people's lives and allow them to do what they want. The government should provide security, safety, and protection from others but that's about it. The rest, to borrow a phrase, "the market will provide".

Let's consider these aspects and examine how the Harper Government has done.

First examine the concept of smaller government. While they have started cutting numerous civil servant jobs, they are also the government with the largest cabinet in Canadian history. Cost savings are offset by eliminating jobs in the civil service, while increasing government spending through providing perks and benefits to more parliamentarians who serve in cabinet.

Despite decreasing the number of civil service jobs, they are not making government smaller. By adding a large cabinet, and introducing a bill to add more MPs to the House of Commons, the government have set themselves to to foster the creation of a larger government rather than a smaller one.

In fact a supporter of small government has nothing to celebrate, as this was the party that used to share in that ideal. But now, it has increased the size of government and seems only more poised to consolidate power to a select fee in the cabinet.

That brings us to deregulation. The most recent budget bill contained several environmental measures that would consolidate power in the hands of the cabinet and government and promotes economic development at the sacrifice of environmental safety. While deregulation is usually celebrated by economic conservatives, this measure would consolidate too much power in the hands of the government. It would restrict the ability of the people to have their say and focus extreme authority in the cabinet, thus increasing the size of government control over the free market.

So a small government conservative won't have much to cheer about in this measure.

But what about someone who simply wants deregulation? While they will celebrate the red tape removal, they would also bemoan the fact that cabinet still has to sign off on projects. It isn't so much deregulation as it is changing who does the regulating. In that regard, the measures don't go far enough for the true free market conservatives who want to be free to evolve and invest in their company without government interference.

That brings us to taxes. While it is true the government has cut the GST by two percent since coming to power, they have also fostered the creation of the HST and overseen some tax increases and shifts to other means.

If you aren't a business owner, or near the top of the food chain in a massive company, you haven't felt much leeway in your pocketbook as far as the government is concerned. For the most part, only businesses have reaped the most from tax breaks and lowering since the Conservatives came to power. If you are a middle class Canadian, you've gotten short shrift for the most part.

As such, one must wonder whether fiscal conservatives who fall below the "upper class" still feel that the party represents their best interests.

Finally, we come to the the looking of fiscal record. Conservatives are perceived as the best managers of the economy due to their business friendly attitudes; but have that Harper Conservatives lived up to that?

In a word: no.

Spending is up, in addition to the stimulus spending that came from Canada's Economic Action Plan, and a lot of the purchases make you wonder. From the millions spent on advertising programs to highlight the government's spending to questionable G-8 and military spending, this government has racked up one of the largest deficits in Canadian history.

As economic stewards, their credibility is mostly shot.

Now, I have looked at what the two types of conservatives care about and the way this government has approached those issues. What can we conclude?

Well, two things.

Firstly, that the conservatives have run the risk of alienating some of their "light" base due to their inability to stand the beliefs and commitments that they had while in the opposition benches. Fiscal conservatives have the most to be angry about, given that the government has abandoned the hard right fiscal perspective that these people desire.

However, people who are on the hard right of economic issues will not abandon the Conservatives over this, much like many social conservatives will not abandon the party as the other parties are nothing more than "gay loving, baby killing, taxing socialists!'

So, on both sides of the conservative spectrum there are those who have no "choice" but to continue to support the conservatives as no other party is better for them.

Secondly, that the conservatives in power have abandoned the principles and ideals that put them in power for political expediency. While they still pursue some issues, that fall on the right of the economic and social scale, they have abandoned hardline issues in order to rise to power.

As such, they have fallen into the liberal trap of not standing for anything in order to appeal to populism.

They've also rode on the perceived conservative financial record as good stewards as their most populist issue. Despite their controversial stance on some issues, if they can maintain the illusion of financial competency they can maintain the coalition of centrist voters to put the into power.

But more and more cracks are showing in this idea. Scandal and mismanagement are leading Canadians to question their ability to manage the economy. As such, they are alienating independent and centrist voters,while also alienating parts of their own base.

While a majority of their base will stand by them no matter what, they do run the risk of losing "liberal conservatives" to other parties that at least appeal to one of their keys issues in a way the conservatives no longer do.

Effectively, this thought experiment has led me to believe that even those who call themselves Conservative's must be scratching their head and wondering what they are going to do the next time there is an election.

While many have no other party to turn to, many might decide to sit the next election out and wait for their party to normalize backlight values the party used to have.

Effectively, the conservatives are creating a group of people who will feel their party has left them; and it might take awhile for those people to return.

And since I'm not a conservative, that is a prognosis that a progressive can get behind, and it will be the true cost of a Harper Government.

While he may destroy parts of our national identity in the years ahead, Harper is also laying the seeds of his own destruction and abandonment by those who put him in power in the first place.

Friday, May 4, 2012

An update

Well, what a day. An update on Robocalls that seems to put a very large nail in the Conservative coffin...As well as some provincial union suggestions that have a lot of people shaking their heads.

Then we have the ongoing F-35 fiasco, problems with armored vehicle procurement, and the continued use of time allocation to limit debate. Oh, and our Environmental Minister saying that environmental groups were nothing more than 'money launderers' for US cash.

Wow, that is a lot of stupidity, arrogance, and down right WTF to cover. For those of you unfamiliar with the phrase WTF, allow me to simply say that it allows me to use a type of language I've always tried to avoid on the blog. But at this point, there really is no other word or phrase for it.

So, let's start then with the latest on Robocalls. It came out today that Elections Canada has linked an IP address from the 'infamous' Pierre Poutine to a Conservative Campaign Headquarters in Guelph, Ontario.

More importantly, it links the computer to Andrew Prescott; who has long been the key choice for people trying to identify Poutine.

And now we have Conservatives who have long denied involvement directly linked to the Robocalls. This was a campaign computer, so it is not very likely that someone other than a conservative campaign worker who was behind the calls.

But that was not the only interesting thing to come out today. Seemingly ready for this eventuality, two other Guelph campaign workers have come forward and attacked disgraced former staffer Michael Sona.

Sona is now reportedly on record if endorsing "American style" politicking, involving misleading phone calls and active vote suppression; according to these two staffers.

Now, I don't like speculation and conspiracy thinking...But something doesn't sit right in all of this.

When Sona's name first came out, and he resigned, why didn't these two workers come forward immediately with this information?

The fact that these workers sat on this information until it came out that the campaign was directly involved...well, it just leaves a sour taste in my mouth. This is far too convenient and apt to come out on the same day.

Rather, this seems like another attempt to tie the entire affair to Sona, now that it can no longer be denied that the CPC were involved.

But with the CPC now directly tied, and months of information basically saying that one person couldn't have pulled this off, it is too little too late to pin this only on Sona. And yet again, we will be waiting to see just how high up in the CPC this goes, and just whose been fighting like hell to pin this only on Sona and who those people are protecting.

That brings us to the F-35s. Both the Auditor General and the Parliamentary Budget Officer have testified before a committee and basically confirmed that the government intentionally misled Canadians about the cost of the planes and even kept 'two sets of books' on the F-35 program.

I can't help but be reminded of Mel Brooks' "The Producers", when cops raid Max Bialystock's office and find two sets of books. One saying show to the IRS. The other saying NEVER show to the IRS.

And that seems to be the system this government has taken when talking to Canadians about the F-35s. It is more or less confirmed that Defence Minister Peter Mackay knew about the full cost, and the low ball figure being told to Canadians, for years.

This suggests that others in cabinet, and likely the Prime Minister himself, knew about the full cost if the F-35s and chose to say nothing of the true cost to Canadians.

And yet, no heads have rolled at the DND. Instead, Conservatives have chosen to continue to attack Parliamentary Officers, like the AG and the PBO.

To his credit, Kevin Page has done an amazing job as the PBO. And whoever follows him has big shoes to fill...though given his track record, Harper is unlikely to appoint anyone but a dyed in the wool 'true believer' to the post when Page's term is up. And that alone should scare a lot of us, as we will lose one of the few voices who had tried to keep this government accountable while having the cloak of impartiality.

Speaking if impartiality, that brings us to Peter Kent and his condemnation of environmental groups ahead of the closing of second reading on the omnibus budget bill that will effect those groups.

Kent has gone as far as to say that these groups have acted as 'money launderers' for foreign investors who want to undermine what is best for Canada.

Yet he's said nothing about news detailing multi-million dollar donations from ultra-conservative Americans the Koch Brothers to the right leaning Fraser Institute.

Nor would he say anything about investment from non-Canadian companies, who let's be honest have their bottom line ahead if Canada's best interest.

But yes, no mention of that at all.

And then there's the fact that the Conservative Party ACTUALLY laundered money in the 2006 Election. And they may have done it again in the 2011 Election, in Quebec. In-and-Out, anyone?

Pot, meet kettle. We all know that this is ideologically driven, regardless of what the CPC says. This is about selling out Canada to the highest bidder with little to no concern or forethought. Nothing more, nothing less.

And there should be more outrage about this throughout the country; as it will affect us all.

Top it off with the bill being time allocated, and this us a policy that is going to have a lasting impact on our country in a number of negative ways.

With all the federal stupidity, you almost wish you could look inward and not see the same lack of thought and consideration...But nope.

The Sask Party is committed to reexamining the way unions work in this province, namely by changing the way unions collect dues.

Wall is covering himself by suggesting he wants to find ways for people to opt out of unions, for disabled and young workers, and that he is not going to advocate complete reform...

But it doesn't seem that way on the follow through.

Rather, it seems that Wall is actively declaring war on unions; or more specifically, continuing the war his government started during their first term.

In fact, Wall's true motivations were revealed in a press conference he gave. Wall talked about how the unions, singling out the SGEU, campaigned against his government in the last election.

So, you are saying that you are targeting a group who campaigned against you, but not for that reason...Right, and people watch boxing for the 'sport of boxing', rather than to see someone get beaten to a pulp.

Whether this was an accidental slip, or some arrogance in Wall believing himself to be untouchable, we have seen the true motivation for Wall's actions against unions in the province.

On top of this, numerous people are speaking against this move; if only because this is the prelude to another costly legal challenge that the province will end up losing.

This is a government that was already condemned by the UN Labour Congress for anti-union legislation; as well as a government who had one of those bills overturned in a legal challenge.

If the Sask Party moves on this bill, it will only result in another legal challenge that the tax payers of Saskatchewan will have to pay for. And it will be a legal challenge that will likely result in the government being told to repeal the bill.

And it's a price we're going to pay just so a petty Premier can go after people who campaigned against him.

It's also a partisan price tag that taxpayers shouldn't have to pay for.