November 2014 LFS: An alternative view. 23,000 jobs lost, or 12,300 new ‘entrepreneurs’ found?*

Statistics Canada’s November 2014 Labour Force Survey (LFS) release  generated the typical morning headlines, like Canada lost 10,000 jobs in November (courtesy CBC News). The associated write-ups highlighted bank economists’ ‘cautious optimism’, as they typically have. While Statscan’s brief report twice mentioned significant self-employment gains, both month-to-month and year-over-year, most national news reports (like CBC News’) omitted any such mention. As the saying goes, you can only lead a horse to water.

The almost statistically insignificant change reported in the latest and last LFS release of the year nevertheless merits mention, if only for reflecting the year that was(n’t) in the Canadian labour market.

Employment class, type, wages

The November 2014 LFS estimated monthly employment changes fell well below the reported standard errors for the estimates (which aren’t the actual standard errors for the estimates, but that’s another topic). Table 2 of the release indicates the estimated number of employees fell 23,000 as the number of self-employed rose 12,300 over the preceding month; the standard errors for these estimated changes were 35,700 and 25,500, respectively. That is, the practically insignificant changes were relatively meaningless, hence the asterisk in the title.

That said, Table 2 also indicates self-employment accounted for 27 percent of total LFS-reported employment gains year-over-year. That’s up from the 20 percent share of year-over-year gains reported in the November 2013 LFS release. For context, the November 2013-2014 figures represent a year-over-year estimated rise in self-employment of 1.4%, double the year-over-year rise in actual (payroll) employment of just 0.7%.

The silver lining bank economists supposedly saw in the report was that the monthly job losses were mostly in  part-time employment. As Table 1 of the November 2014 LFS release indicates, part-time employment fell an estimated 16,300 as full-time employment rose 5,700. (Here again the estimated changes were well below the standard errors for the estimates, 36,100 and 39,200, respectively.)

In a month when larger losses in actual (payroll) employment were tempered by moderate gains in self-employment, is an estimated drop in part-time employment a positive sign?

Also, since the LFS doesn’t collect self-employment earnings, in a month when relatively fewer survey respondents reported wage earnings than a year earlier, is an estimated improvement in average wages cause for optimism, let alone a meaningful measure?

The intuitive answer to both questions is ‘no’ – which is at odds with what has been and continues to be reported by most Canadian news outlets.

The sorry state of Canadian civil liberties: Recasting ‘Uncle Tom’ as civil rights hero

A well-intentioned CBC initiative spotlighting racism and prejudice in Canada has gone awry with a story about Ms. Joanne St. Lewis, a University of Ottawa professor supposedly subjected to racism at work. The story neglects to specify what provoked a fellow professor to direct a racial epithet at her in the first instance: Her disingenuous efforts to discredit a report on systemic racism at the university, on behalf of its (then) all-white executive.

Contrary to the CBC story narrative, Ms. St. Lewis is no civil rights hero.

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2016 NHS: Long-form census fiasco as FAMEX redux

2011 NHS: How much less we now know, illustrated * 2011 NHS: How much less we now know, illustrated *

Canada’s 2011 long-form census fiasco was brought to the fore again last week with the introduction of Bill C-626. The private member’s bill seeks to amend the Statistics Act to mandate the long-form survey and provide the Chief Statistician with greater administrative autonomy. While there’s no debating its voluntary replacement rendered useless results at exorbitant cost, the proposed legislation, even if successful, won’t necessarily assure the long-form census’ future success.

It’s been written those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. Although never mentioned in the ongoing public discourse, what’s happening with the long-form census is basically the Survey of Family Expenditures (FAMEX) all over again. And that didn’t turn out well.

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Is Canadian housing price inflation an intended policy outcome?


During the press conference following the Bank of Canada (BoC) July 2014 Monetary Policy Report, bank governor Stephen Poloz was asked whether the Bank was making up excuses – likely in response to his “serial disappointment” remark – to avoid raising its target rate. A lower rate benefits the federal government in a number of ways, primarily by lowering its debt servicing and public spending costs. However, the dangers of an extended period of low interest rates include excessive household debt accumulation, particularly mortgage debt.

But what if the BoC views excessive housing price inflation as a key economic driver – and that view is affecting its policy rate decision?

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What’s really behind the peculiar Canadian labour stats lately?

Following Statistics Canada’s July 2014 Labour Force Survey (LFS) flub, speculation about the survey’s reliability abounded. The agency subsequently issued a statement to assure the public it was a one-off ‘human’, as opposed to systemic, error. Then immediately followed it up with  an August LFS release that raised a collective eyebrow. The interesting part about StatsCan’s explanations for the wonky LFS stats of late is the lack of data quality measures to back them up.

According to StatsCan, public confidence in its data quality is of paramount importance. To this end, it maintains a Policy on Informing Users of Data Quality and Methodology. Unfortunately, the policy diverges widely from current practice.

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Why Canada avoids asking about race, and why that’s a problem

Making waves in his first speech after taking office in 2009, outgoing US Attorney General Eric Holder then described his country as a “nation of cowards” afraid to confront racial issues. While the US had made remarkable progress on civil rights in the latter half of the twentieth century, election of a biracial president aside, there’s evidence to suggest it has recently regressed. There are anecdotes, like recent incidents in Detroit, Michigan and Ferguson, Missouri. But there are also race-based statistics collected, compiled and published by various US government agencies, from Justice to Labor to even the Federal Reserve.

If fear of confronting race is cowardice, what does one call fear of even asking about it? Because that’s where Canada is at the moment.

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In debate over drug legalisation, it’s worth revisiting Prohibition (which actually worked)

Canada’s pot policy needs to sober up
Andre Picard, The Globe and Mail August 21, 2014

Sometimes, you catch news items a bit late. Today, that item is Globe public health reporter Andre Picard’s recent write-up on Canada’s marijuana legalisation discourse (which closely mirrors that taking place in the US).

As succinctly stated, a more sombre reflection on the possible / likely ramifications of legalisation than what’s so far passed as ‘debate’ is needed. Mr. Picard seems to pull back a bit in his August 2014 column, grouping pot as a, “recreational drug, such as tobacco and alcohol”. In an earlier (April 2014) column, the ‘recreational drug’ reference was to opioids, such as abused prescription OxyContin and heroine.

While cannabinoid and opioid are distinct, they “share several pharmacologic properties”. The science is far from settled on whether in therapeutic use the combination of the two is more beneficial or harmful. The science is far clearer on the combination’s recreational / mis-use: It’s quite harmful, and can be fatal. Since it targets similar (but not the same receptors) as opioids, cannabis can likewise be addictive (the distinction between ‘habit-formation’ and ‘addiction’ is more art than science).

Decriminalisation, or legalisation?

Cannabis use can be quite socially harmful, to individual users’ health (cognitive development, mental health), and to the greater public (motor vehicle, workplace accidents). There’s also economic harm, to individuals (criminal record implications), and to the state (enforcement, rehabilitation). The interesting debate, it would seem, is whether to simply decriminalise possession or legalise commercial trade (production, distribution, sale).

The interesting line in, and jump-off point from, Mr. Picard’s column:

But there are a lot more alcoholics than there are stoners.

Yes, there are. Now. When one can purchase alcohol at just about every convenience and grocery store. Along with a pack of smokes. For less than ten bucks. Will that still be the case when a pack of marijuana cigarettes is sold alongside the Players and duMaurier for a similar price?

One of the most disingenuous arguments put forward for marijuana legalisation is that government regulation will keep it out of children’s hands – like alcohol and tobacco. It’s a transparently absurd argument to anyone who’s attended Canadian high school any time in the past half century. Because Canadian high school kids don’t have access to alcohol and tobacco.

Similarities to Prohibition debate

Did Prohibition Really Work? Alcohol Prohibition as a Public Health Innovation
Jack S. Blocker, Jr, American Journal of Public Health February 2006

Actually, Prohibition Was a Success
Mark H. Moore, New York Times October 16, 1989