Pragmatic solutions to Canada’s employment challenge

Last Friday’s Statistics Canada Jobs report sent policy makers across the country scurrying for solutions.  

Canadian employment fell by 60,000 full-time jobs in December resulting in a year of nearly zero full-time job growth. What jobs were created in 2013, about 83,000 of them, were all part-time. And if one looks back to the first signs of the recession in 2009, we’ve yet to rebound to an employment rate that accounts for a labour force that keeps growing.

In short, we need jobs. And we need them now.

Looking forward, whether this past years stagnant job performance is indicative of what’s to come for the economy, or whether it’s just a blip in the road, is debatable. A falling loonie promises some breathing space for Canadian manufacturers and exporters, though the benefits of relatively cheaper export prices need to be balanced against the costs of rising import prices. The recently negotiated, though yet to be ratified, Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) with the European Union is similarly two-faced. While it opens significant opportunities for Canadian firms, we’ll only reap those rewards if public and private actors step up to provide assistance to small and medium sized (SME) businesses unsure of how to access new markets, and how to navigate different regulatory systems.  Many will need it in the face of growing competition with European counterparts who on average have far more experienced in dealing with linguistic and regulatory differences (a 27-member economic union has its advantages…)

And so if 2014 is to provide the job creation that Canada needs, far more focus needs to be placed on stimulating demand at home.

Tax credits for job creation are a popular political tool to create that demand but as a small business owner myself, I’ll tell you that a tax credit with no demand won’t add to my workforce. I’ll hire more when the pinging sound on my BlackBerry grows more consistent. Others promise the benefits of cheaper energy, however we should be weary of grandiose promises that avoid the realities of rapidly changing global economy. And finally, dampening consumer demand through an iron-fisted goal of balancing the budget prior to the 2015 Federal Election is certainly of no help either.

So instead why not focus on making our BlackBerry’s ping with a series of pragmatic and feasible solutions that actually make sense:

  1. Leadership and investment in infrastructure. According to the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, gridlock costs the Canadian economy $10 billion year. If you’ve had the misfortune of traveling the 401 between KW and Toronto you know why. We desperately need to fund rapid transit between these core nodes of the economy to get people more effectively to and from, and to free up our highways for the movement of people and goods.
  2. Understand and act on the fact that social services are good long-term investments. Whether it’s childcare, crime prevention programs, refugee healthcare or a form of basic income,  investments in helping people help themselves are amongst the soundest we can make. In contrast, cuts to such services will end up costing up far more in the medium and long-term. And while this might mean finding new dollars to fund necessary programs, we need all those who want to do better to have the tools to do. For when they benefit, every business owner, tax payer and community member wins too.
  3. Open up new pathways for financing for SMEs and startups. Across the globe, jurisdictions are thinking creatively about how to ensure good ideas and potentially significant job creators don’t lie idle due to a lack of capital. Tech-enabled crowdsourcing platforms need regulatory approval at the provincial level to get off the ground. Doing so will open up new avenues for small businesses needing capital to get off the ground or to expand, and could mean significant additions to payrolls. There are certainly risks with these models, however there’s no reason we should shy away from a few bold pilot projects and experiments to make sure we’re doing everything we can to catalyze the economy.
  4. Expand programs like the Canadian Digital Media Network’s Soft Landing program, which helps SMEs set-up in emerging markets for short periods to learn about potential export opportunities, and leverage the concept of IT accelerators and incubators across other sectors of the economy, notably the service sector and additive manufacturing. The University of Waterloo’s Velocity Program is well on its way regarding 3D print related incubation, but we need to see these models replicated across the country.
I don’t doubt that others have ideas, likely better than mine, to share.
And given the current state of Canada’s job market, now would be the time to start getting them on the table.