Employment levels

The employment level in December in New Brunswick dropped fairly substantially.  As I have pointed out many times before, there are always going to be swings in the monthly data.  The important thing to look at is the trending over time and between 1999 and 2008, New Brunswick had the worst employment growth in the country among the 10 provinces. I suspect that will the annualized data comes out for 2009 that trend will continue.

Yet, if you looked at the government press releases on the monthly labour market survey going back to 1999 you would see a positive report ever single month – I suspect.  I have reviewed probably 80% of them over that period and you get the same thing.

Now this is non-partisan as all governments have done it from the dawn of time.

According to the figures in the TJ, there was a 3,600 drop in employment in December yet the government press release includes this line:

Employment growth in December was strongest in the following areas: forestry, fishing, mining; oil and gas; other services; and information, culture and recreation.

Read the release, it is a very good job of spinning a negative into a positive.  

Now, I have talked with PR folks at the government and they tell me this is their job – to put a positive light on things.  They are not paid to highlight negative things.   

I guess that makes some sense but if the point is to lull people into thinking that everything is booming in New Brunswick and then you come before them and say you need to make massive changes to the system – you can expect them to react badly.    The NB Power situation should have been explained to people for years.  The Lord government knew full well we were headed for a perfect storm of problems with NB Power and that is why they made all those changes back in the 2002-2003 timeframe.  Rates skyrocketed since then anyway.   Now we are hitting a rate shock, debt wall, infrastructure upgrade requirements and a carbon emission problem all at once.  NB Power, on the path it is on, will either cripple the provincial books with new debt or lead to rate increases that will hammer our industrial sector (as well as residents).

I guess my point here is that government needs to balance their political need to convince people that everything is okay (to keep Don Mills’ tracking numbers looking good) with the practical need to convince them that we will need to make considerable changes in direction if we want to turn things around.

As I have said before, I think the Minister should say we can and must do better.

10 thoughts on “Employment levels

  1. The average rate increase has been 3.6%, that’s hardly ‘skyrocketing’. Actually, if you look at the books of NBPower they look pretty good.

    It’s the REST of the government that is the problem. The theory advanced here is that as long as everybody knows how sucky things are in NB then they’d agree to sell off whatever they can or accept whatever policies the government enacts in order to ‘make things less sucky’.

    With NB Power the opposite is true, as people have looked further and further into NBPower and energy policies in general, the deal looks absolutely insane.

    However, the idea that government workers have a ‘job’ putting a positive spin on things is simply another phrase for ‘propaganda’. People ridiculed the notion in the USSR, why accept it here?

  2. It will be interesting to see the employment growth trend after April 1; if you beleive the spin, it ought to take off expotentially.

    New Brunswick is about to make the largest ever single investment in support for industry, trading off billions in value gained from the NB Power sale to secure 30% reduction in industry power rates. While the government has not secured any commitments for expansions or even sustaining operations, they have certainly communicated that they have faith that jobs will be created by the deal. Using the 40% industrial percentage of the $5 billion in savings, that is about $2 billion. At the standard $10,000 per job, that would suggest about 200,000 jobs. Give half of that towards ‘job retention’ and that would give a rough estimate of 100,000 new jobs created over the next 5 years.

    That would certainly have a major impact on the employment trend. Anyone taking bets that it will happen?

    For the record, I have no problem supporting industry; I would just like to see some firm commitment for the $ 2 billion in value we are providing. Sorry, when it comes to business and money, faith does not do it for me.

  3. Now, I have talked with PR folks at the government and they tell me this is their job – to put a positive light on things. They are not paid to highlight negative things.

    You’re right (and it is their job…kinda). But this isn’t something that should just happen in government, political parties in NB (and the opposition) have a duty to lay out their positions on a host of issues (be it taxes, spending, NB power, industry, health, education, etc.) instead of just acting as “reaction machines” to government policy. Lets face it, there must be something they’d like to see changed or reformed in this province. Surely everything isn’t running that smoothly that political parties (and the opposition) can just mull around and jump on the latest slip up by government. That’s not showing leadership.

    If you want to really gauge the situation of the province, request the minutes from any party convention and see just where they stand. It probably won’t take long as they have been a gatherings for people who find that policy construction makes their brains hurt.

  4. “That’s not showing leadership.”

    That’s true, but it is not really in the interests of the loyal opposition to present detailed alternatives. That just creates a target. Someone or something else has to carry the can. We have commmissions, inquiries, reports of all kinds. A number of these have some useful ideas, but most often they get buried by govt if they are seen to have a political price tag. For the same reason, opposition parties seldom hold up these reports and demand action. Its up to the rest of us to find ways to keep some attention on these issues.

    The mass media has a big role to play here, but they aren’t delivering. They need some incentives to generate discussion on policy issues. By generating discussion, a consensus on a given issue can sometimes be developed among citizens; that reduces the political costs of taking action, by govt or opposition parties. It might even inspire a leader to take action in spite of public oppostion.

  5. “By generating discussion, a consensus on a given issue can sometimes be developed among citizens; that reduces the political costs of taking action, by govt or opposition parties. It might even inspire a leader to take action in spite of public oppostion.”

    That makes zero sense, but again, perhaps Richard means something different than that sounds. The NBPower deal is fairly instructive, the CBC has had stories on it almost daily. There are tons of comments there, a lot are just the tory partisan crap, but certainly not all. NOW they are more often that, because most of the available details have now been analyzed to death.

    And by now there certainly is a ‘consensus’, and that consensus has reduced the political action of opposing the deal for Alward, who at the very first only asked questions about it, but certainly didn’t complain about selling NB Power.

    Why that would ‘inspire’ a leader to take action in spite of opposition is beyond me, and I really fail to see the logic in the theory that media needs to ‘step up’ and generate discussion in order to come to a ‘consensus’ which then would ‘inspire’ the leader to action in spite of the opposition. Again, that negates the entire reason for people to discuss issues.

    Perhaps what is meant is that EVERY political action will have SOME opposition and this ‘consensus’ will reveal that the majority in fact support the leader and enable them to counter protests. I”d agree with that, if you look at the abortion situation, where NB has been breaking federal law for YEARS, even though polls show that the majority do not agree with their practise they’ve been essentially forced to cater to the VERY vocal anti abortion groups because the majority is ‘silent’ and doesn’t make an issue of it.

  6. “NBPower deal is fairly instructive”

    No it isn’t. The NB Power example illustrates what happens when people are kept in the dark. There have been reports since the mid 90s pointing out the problems NB Power was heading into. Those reports were discounted and ignored by politicians (at least publicly) ans the press. Consequently, everyone was shocked when the sale proposal was announced. What should have happened is that politicians should have been honest about NP Power’s problems and the press should have kept the issue in the spotlight. At that point a consensus might have developed that something needed to be done. The sale might still have been opposed by a large minority or a majority, but, either way, the problems would be well-described and Graham’s decision seen as one of the possible solutions, rather than how it now portrayed by opponents.

    “Again, that negates the entire reason for people to discuss issues. ”

    No it doesn’t. No one expects to get their own way all the time. Rational informed debate will in general improve the quality of decision-making. Leaders still must be willing to act in opposition to the majority opinion, at least once in a while.

  7. I meant the example of NB Power AFTER the announcement. Richard simply wants his own propaganda to have been the central theme, and if it isn’t, then its not ‘fair’. It’s VERY true there have been problems at NB Power, none are as drastic as stated here by those who claim to have a crystal ball, so they really SHOULD have been featured in media.

    However, they HAVE been in the media fairly often, when the orimulsion deal happened there were stories all the time, likewise when Hay was getting nice bonuses. The idea that every day the media should have been saying “we’ve got to sell” is just silly. As little as four years ago NBPower had a banner year. Even this year they haven’t got a deficit according to the new financials that just came out.

    But again, there is little reason to learn all about energy policy when you can’t DO anything. Richard is upset because he sees a solution in that IF they had parroted what HE thinks then ‘the blow would be softened’. However, we both agree about the media, but you can’t put a gun to people’s heads. The government of course can STILL do the right thing, there’s no rush, pick a date in, say, two years, and have a referendum. Spend those two years getting all that information out. If government stopped playing the heavy then people would look more at the deal. Of course because Richard wants the deal he wants a Premier that will do what HE wants,not listen to the majority of NBers who only fund the thing.

    However, the line “no one expects to get their own way all the time” is EXACTLY true and why more direct democracy is integral. It is that respect for other’s opinion’s which is WHY no one expects that. I don’t agree with the last line, that assumes that a leader has some inherent knowledge or moral centre that the ‘majority’ doesn’t have, and that’s certainly never true of politicians. However, again, why would somebody who has work to do, a life to lead, and tons of things they don’t have time for, spend time debating when there is no resolution for their work?

    Everyone was ‘shocked’ because Graham publicly said he would not sell NB Power, and right up to a week before the sale was announced was praising it as a valuable resource. Say what you want, the NB Power deal IS instructive, at virtually every level, and the culprit by no means is the media-in fact its clear the liberal party and even liberal members of the caucus had no part in making the deal. We don’t accept behaviour like that in despots, we shouldn’t start now.

  8. ” The idea that every day the media should have been saying “we’ve got to sell” is just silly”

    Yes, it would be silly, but I never said that. You are making stuff up once again.

    “and right up to a week before the sale was announced was praising it as a valuable resource. ”

    Yes, exactly. Thanks again for proving my point. There has been very little ongoing discussion in the mass media in NB on energy policy in general and NB Power in particular and very little honesty from politicians on these issues over the past two decades. So of course the announcement of the sale is a shock to many. Yes, the oriumulsion fiasco was covered, but as an isolated incident, not as a sympton of something very wrong. Many of those opposed to the sale are saying let’s delay and discuss; I am saying we should have been doing that for the past decade. It comes down to whether you think there is an opportunity here that benefits NB or not; an opportunity that might not be there in a year or two.

  9. Well, I can’t argue with any of that. The only thing I’ll add is that its not the media’s fault when politicians lie. Media’s job is NOT to have an ‘ongoing discussion’. What media have you EVER seen that has done that? The orimulsion deal WAS an ‘isolated incident’ (OK, I guess I don’t completely agree), how many times have thermal plants converted to orimulsion? There could, of course, have been MORE stories about that, but there were plenty, and most were along the lines of “something is wrong”. The government of NB IS very secretive, and there’s only so much the media can find out, but there was lots of coverage whenever something ‘went wrong’ at NBPOwer.

    It’s the ‘very wrong’ bit that is the issue. Selling NB Power has occasionally been brought up, particularly when ontario tried privatizing, as well as California. In the past it is the unaccountable nature of NBPower that is what is “very wrong”, however, this sale certainly doesn’t address that, if anything it makes it more difficult to enact any policies.

    It IS very true that HQ may NOT want to buy NB Power at some other date if a referendum were held. That’s pretty obvious, and thats a risk that the OWNERS take. To my mind that simply reflects more problems with the details of the deal. IF something is for sale, they can buy it later. Obviously the price may change, and maybe other buyers come into the picture, that can only be good for the province.

  10. In the rcent RIM announcement for 50 new jobs in Fredericton, the government offered $800,000 in payroll tax relief once the jobs are created. That is $16,000 per job; a higher number than we are used to seeing but the jobs are meant to be at professional levels. $800,000 can create 50 better-than-average jobs with a global leading company such as RIM; likely a good investment.

    Using this new $16,000 per job funding baseline, the $2 billion in rate-savings value generated from the NB Power sale that we are proposing to provide to the large industrial users in the form of power rate relief, represents 125,000 new jobs over the next 5 years.

    If the industrial users are willing to commit to job creation numbers in this order of magnitude, I am all for selling NB Power and handing over our $2 billion. If they are not, we better shop around. Have we asked how many New Brunswick jobs RIM would create for $2 billion?

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