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Where have all the workers gone? Don't blame COVID, economists say – CBC.ca

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Canada is in the throes of a serious labour shortage, but economists say it’s not all the pandemic’s fault — it’s the inevitable culmination of a seismic demographic shift decades in the making.

“It’s the slowest-moving train on the planet. It was predictable 60 to 65 years ago, and we have done nothing about it,” said Armine Yalnizyan, an economist and Atkinson Fellow on the Future of Workers. “We knew this transition was going to happen.”

The numbers behind all those help wanted signs are startling.

According to Statistics Canada, the unemployment-to-job vacancy ratio — a key measure comparing the number of Canadians looking for work to the number of available jobs — is currently hovering at a historic low in every province. In fact, the ratio is significantly lower now than it was before the COVID-19 pandemic began.

The reason isn’t that there are fewer jobs opening up — remember the help wanted signs? It’s that there are fewer workers available to fill them. And the reason for that, economists say, can be traced back to the post-war baby boom.

Construction workers prepare a form in downtown Toronto in May. According to Statistics Canada, their industry is the among the hardest-hit by the current labour shortage. (Alex Lupul/CBC)

Not enough replacements

While those 55 and older have been steadily exiting the Canadian workforce — an exodus that some economists believe was accelerated by the pandemic, as many older workers opted for early retirement — there simply aren’t enough younger workers to replace them.

In fact, participation in the workforce among those ages 25-54 approached 88 per cent in May, up more than one percentage point from February 2020, before the pandemic had taken hold in Canada.

“That’s what happens when a baby boom finally starts exiting from stage left, and there’s not enough people entering from stage right,” Yalnizyan said. “We’ve actually got a higher share of the working-age population working than ever.”

Armine Yalnizyan is an economist and Atkinson Fellow on the Future of Workers. (Christopher Katsarov/The Atkinson Foundation)

That contradicts the theory that some sort of “great resignation” among working-age Canadians is to blame for all those job vacancies, according to Ian Lee, associate professor at Carleton University’s Sprott School of Business.

“I just found that very suspicious because unless you’re independently wealthy … most of us have to have income to survive,” Lee said. “It just didn’t make sense.”

“Your first suspicion as a labour economist is, well, are people just not in the labour force anymore?” said Gordon Betcherman, professor emeritus at the University of Ottawa’s school of international development and global studies. “But that’s not the case. It’s back up to levels that we had before COVID.”

An employee’s market

Instead, economists say the data points to the emergence of an employee’s market where workers are enjoying an enormous amount of leverage over employers.

“It’s undeniable this trend we’re in where the balance between job seekers and job vacancies has definitely shifted,” Betcherman said.

According to Statistics Canada, that has led to virtually unprecedented labour shortages across nearly every employment sector.

There just aren’t enough people willing to do poorly paid jobs that are marginal at best.– Armine Yalnizyan, economist

In particular, the construction and manufacturing sectors are having a difficult time recruiting skilled workers, followed closely by accommodation and food services, which includes hotels, restaurants and bars. 

“People are finding other places to work. There just aren’t enough people willing to do poorly paid jobs that are marginal at best,” Yalnizyan noted. 

“Workers have a lot more choices now,” Lee agreed. “If you have more choices and you don’t have to work in that industry, you’ll go and work in an industry where there’s a better career stream and where the wages are higher and the hours are more predictable.”

That could force employers in certain industries to raise wages, Lee said.

“I’m not suggesting that the demand for these jobs is going to go away. It’s not,” he said. “It suggests to me that we’re going to see some pretty serious wage inflation in these industries over the years ahead.”

The restaurant sector is also struggling to attract new hires as many opt for higher-paying jobs with better working conditions. (Paige Parsons/CBC)

Wages predicted to rise

According to Yalnizyan, this competitive new environment means employers in certain sectors will also need to raise wages if they hope to retain skilled workers.

“We are losing people who are trained as early childhood educators because we won’t pay them more than we pay pet groomers. Well why would they stay if they can get a better job in some other sector?”

That’s borne out by Statistics Canada data showing the reservation wage — the minimum hourly rate at which job seekers are willing to accept a position — surpassing the current offered wage in nearly every sector, whereas Canadian workers have historically been willing to settle for less.

Economists believe there are other possible outcomes — increasing automation to fill the vacuum left by the labour shortage, for one. Some industries could also bring in more temporary foreign workers to help fill gaps at the lower end of the labour market, potentially blunting the gains made by domestic workers.

Ian Lee is an associate professor at Carleton University’s Sprott School of Business. (CBC)

But Yalnizyan said rising wages could help erase some of the inequalities caused by a labour market that has for years paid some workers well and the rest poorly.

“If we actually improve wages and working conditions, particularly at the bottom, we could be creating the conditions for making a more resilient middle class that can actually afford to buy stuff. That’s what we’ve been missing out on for quite a while now,” she said.

“Population aging can be our friend, not our enemy. But we have to treat it as something more than just a labour shortage for business. We have to treat it as an opportunity to make every job a good job.”

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Danielle Smith: Facts about Alberta’s new premier, United Conservative Party leader

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CALGARY — Former journalist and business owner Danielle Smith won the United Conservative Party’s leadership race on Thursday and, in doing so, becomes Alberta’s next premier. Here are some facts about Smith:

Born: April 1, 1971 in Calgary.

Family: She is married to David Moretta and has a stepson.

Before politics: Smith graduated with degrees in economics and English from the University of Calgary. She was a trustee for the Calgary Board of Education. She wrote editorials with the Calgary Herald and hosted a current affairs TV show called “Global Sunday.” She was a provincial director for the Canadian Federation of Independent Business. She and her husband now own and operate The Dining Car restaurant in High River.

Politics: In 2009, she won the leadership of the Wildrose Alliance, later to become the Wildrose Party. In the 2012 provincial election, Smith won a seat in the constituency of Highwood and the party took over official Opposition status from the Liberals, In 2014, she led eight Wildrose members across the floor to join the governing Progressive Conservatives. After much backlash, she lost in the 2015 election.

Quote: “After everything I’ve done in the past to divide the movement, then try to bring it together the wrong way, I feel like I owe it to the conservative movement to do what I can to be a force of unity.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 6, 2022.

 

The Canadian Press

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Iran flight relatives say Canada a haven for regime officials

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OTTAWA — Relatives of those killed when Iran’s military shot down Flight PS752 in January 2020 say Canada has become a safe haven for regime officials.

“Canada has become a safe haven for the criminals of the Islamic Republic of Iran,” Hamed Esmaeilion testified Thursday afternoon to the House justice committee.

Esmaeilion leads a group representing grieving families, many of whom are aware of numerous people who have worked for the regime, or are related to senior officials, moving freely in Canada.

“This is a big concern for Iranian people,” he said.

Amid a brutal crackdown on women’s and human rights protesters across Iran, the federal Liberals are facing mounting pressure to deem a section of Iran’s army as a terrorist group.

That has coincided with the 1,000-day anniversary of the downing of Flight PS752 near Tehran, which killed 176 people, most of whom were headed through Ukraine to Canada.

No one has been held accountable.

Esmaeilion chalked that up to a naive bureaucracy that sees Iran as a normal country.

“It’s mainly the legal teams or the advisers; they still believe in negotiation with Iran because they don’t see Iran, or the Iranian regime, as a Mafia group,” he said.

“If you change your mindset, that you’re not negotiating with Switzerland or a democratic country, then it would solve the problem.”

He said he’s told officials that Canadians would never play a hockey game with North Korea, and yet Canada’s national men’s soccer team was scheduled to play with Iran back in June, before Canada Soccer cancelled amid political pushback.

Esmaeilion said he’s certain people affiliated with Tehran have been responsible for slashing his tires and making phone calls he found threatening.

The RCMP has previously said it is “aware of reports relating to victims experiencing threats, harassment and intimidation.”

And while the Liberals have said they updated their sanctions list Monday based on impact from Esmaeilion’s group, he said there were many more officials that relatives suggested months ago.

“I’m shocked that I don’t see (Supreme Leader) Ali Khamenei on the list,” he said, adding that President Ebrahim Raisi and former foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif should be listed.

He also called out Iran’s delegate for the Montreal-based International Civil Aviation Organization, saying Farhad Parvaresh should be kicked out of Canada.

This week, a crowd of Iranian Canadians took to Parliament Hill, demanding Ottawa deem the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist group.

Experts have said that such a change would be hard to enforce, given that Iran has conscripted millions into the force’s non-combat roles. A terror listing compels Ottawa to freeze assets held inside Canada and deny entry into the country.

Esmaeilion said that is a serious concern, and there may be as many as 15,000 people already living in Canada in that situation. But he said their military documents clearly state whether they had a senior rank and if they had joined the IRGC by choice.

“We can exempt those people. We have talked to several lawyers, and this is a simple solution for putting the IRGC on the list.”

He also reiterated calls to hold responsible those in charge of the downing of the flight that killed his wife and daughter. Esmaeilion’s group wants Canada to refer the case to the ICAO and the International Criminal Court.

“So far, after 1,000 days, we have no road map; we have no time frame,” he said.

In a Wednesday interview, Transport Minister Omar Alghabra said Canada wants to see justice for the victims of Flight PS752, but must exhaust all avenues with Iran before any international tribunal will take on the case.

“The process is painful, it’s long, it’s cumbersome, it’s complicated,” he said.

“These international bodies are flawed, they’re imperfect, but they are our best way to hold Iran accountable.”

Alghabra said Canada has been helping lead reforms that aim to prevent another catastrophe, such as the Safer Skies initiative. The idea is to have a global body assess when conflict makes it unsafe for civilian flights, and advise companies and states to not take off.

The flight Iran shot down took off hours into a military operation in response to the U.S. assassination of senior Iranian military official Qasem Soleimani.

“PS752 should not have been flying when there was a conflict nearby,” Alghabra said.

– With files from Caitlin Yardley in Montreal.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 7, 2022.

 

Dylan Robertson, The Canadian Press

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Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement, explained – CTV News

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The Supreme Court of Canada will take time to weigh arguments about the constitutionality of an 18-year refugee agreement between Ottawa and Washington after hearing a challenge Thursday from claimants and human rights advocates.

The Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA) allows Canada to turn away asylum seekers seeking entry from the U.S. at official land border crossings.

However, human rights groups say the U.S. is not a “safe country” for asylum seekers and the pact allows Canada to skirt its international obligations for refugee claimants.

CTVNews.ca breaks down what the agreement entails.

WHAT DOES THE STCA DO?

The Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement was signed in 2002 and came into effect in 2004. Under the agreement, those seeking refugee status in either Canada or the U.S. must make their claim in the first country they enter.

That means most asylum seekers who attempt to cross into Canada at an official crossing are turned away and are told they need to make their asylum claim in the U.S., and vice versa. The only exemptions apply to unaccompanied minors and those with close family members living in Canada.

“If one of those narrow exemptions does not apply, you’re not able to make a claim for refugee protection in Canada. And so what that means is that you’re ordered to be removed or deported, and they contact U.S. authorities,” Amnesty International’s Julia Sande told CTV’s Your Morning on Thursday.

But the agreement has one key loophole: it only applies to official land border crossings. That means that asylum seekers who manage to make a refugee claim within Canada while bypassing an official border crossing won’t be sent back to the U.S.

This has prompted tens of thousands of asylum seekers to enter Canada at irregular crossings, such as Roxham Road, a rural road that goes through the border between Quebec and New York State.

HOW MANY ASYLUM SEEKERS HAVE CROSSED IRREGULARLY?

Since February 2017, Canada has seen 67,805 irregular crossers enter the country. Of these, 28,332 (41 per cent) have had their refugee claims approved. In addition, 19,646 refugee claims have been rejected, 13,369 are still pending and the rest have either been withdrawn or abandoned, according to the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB).

Irregular crossings into Canada surged after Donald Trump became president of the United States in 2017, as concerns grew over his anti-immigration rhetoric and executive orders limiting the number of refugees admitted.

According to data from the IRB, the number of irregular crossings peaked between July and September 2017. During this time period, 8,558 asylum seekers irregularly crossed into Canada, corresponding to an average of 2,853 per month.

The average number of irregular crossers per month dipped after that and hovered between 1,200 and 1,400 from late 2018 to early 2020. However, irregular crossings came to a near screeching halt after COVID-19 restrictions at the border were put in place in March 2020 and asylum seekers were sent back to the U.S. unless they met one of the exemptions.

In November 2021, as Canada continued lifting COVID-19 measures at the border, irregular crossers were once again allowed to enter the country and make a claim. Between April and June 2022, 4,512 irregular crossers entered Canada — the most seen since 2019, according to the IRB.

WHAT DO OPPONENTS OF THE STCA SAY?

In 2017, Amnesty International, the Canadian Council for Refugees, and the Canadian Council of Churches launched a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the Safe Third Country Agreement.

The organizations say the legislation underpinning the STCA violates Section 7 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which guarantees life, liberty and security of the person, in addition to Section 15, which guarantees equal protection and benefit under the law.

Sande says asylum seekers who are turned back from Canada often face immigration detention in the U.S.

“When people are in detention, they’re subjected to solitary confinement, staggering rates of sexual violence, really inhumane conditions, not given religiously appropriate food,” she said. “The detention in itself is problematic and harmful. But in addition, when you’re in detention, it’s a lot more difficult to access counsel.”

Sande says the increased difficulty accessing legal counsel means asylum seekers have a higher chance of being deported. On top of that, she said crossing the border at irregular crossings can come with serious risks.

Many of these crossers use Roxham Road, where the RCMP have set up a presence to handle the high volume of asylum seekers. But at other parts of the border, some asylum seekers have made long journeys on foot through empty farm fields in the winter, risking frostbite.

“We’ve heard of people losing fingers from frostbite and really putting themselves at risk. And so I would say it’s neither compassionate nor orderly,” Sande said.

Canada is also subject to the 1951 Refugee Convention, which stipulates that states cannot return refugees to dangerous countries. The human rights groups argue the pact lets Canada “contract out” its international obligations to refugee claimants without proper followup the U.S. is doing the job.

In July 2020, the Federal Court agreed, and ruled the Safe Third Country Agreement was unconstitutional. The federal government appealed the ruling and last December, the Supreme Court announced that it would hear the case.

WHAT HAVE FEDERAL PARTIES SAID?

The NDP and the Bloc Quebecois have long called on the federal government to suspend the Safe Third Country Agreement, and allow asylum seekers to cross into Canada at official crossings so they won’t have to make potentially dangerous journeys through irregular crossings.

Meanwhile, the Conservatives say the STCA should be strengthened to allow Canada to send irregular crossers back to the U.S.

The three opposition parties recently signed a letter calling for an inquiry looking at how public funds were used to build intake facilities at the border near Roxham Road.

In the House of Commons on Wednesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Canada “works with the U.S. government every day to improve the Safe Third Country Agreement.” Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) told CTV’s Your Morning the agreement “has served Canada well” and is necessary to ensure that the border “remains well-managed.”

“Canada believes that the STCA remains a comprehensive means for the compassionate, fair and orderly handling of asylum claims in our two countries,” IRCC said in an email statement.

Quebec Premier Francois Legault has also called on the feds to close the unofficial Roxham Road crossing and said his government does not have the capacity to deal with the influx of people. Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino said on Thursday the government is working “very carefully with Quebec” to manage the flow of asylum seekers.

“We transfer significant federal funds to that province every year to help with ensuring that there is due process, that there… is a baseline of support for people who are filing claims,” he told reporters before a cabinet meeting in Ottawa.

“We have to reach agreements, with partnerships with the United States, with Quebec, and that’s exactly what the federal government will do,” he added in French.

With files from The Canadian Press

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