Governments get poor grade for helping unemployed

A new report co-authored by a York University researcher says the federal and provincial governments are not doing a good job helping the unemployed find work, despite spending billions of dollars each year on employment training and programs.

The report says Canada’s system isn’t optimized to assist the unemployed – and underemployed – in finding meaningful work with good wages.

Thomas Klassen“Helping the unemployed is the responsibility of the federal and provincial governments, and neither government is doing a good job,” says York political science Professor Thomas Klassen (right), who co-authored the report with Donna Wood, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Victoria.

“In terms of our unemployment rate and our overall economic outlook, Canada appears to be in a relatively good position. The problem at the core of this report is whether we have the best system in place to get unemployed Canadians into meaningful, high-paying jobs. Yes, we could have very low unemployment rates with many people working at low-skilled and low-paying jobs, but that is not a long term solution,” Klassen says.

A major problem, he notes, is that business, labour and other groups have limited input into decision making.

“To date, each level of government has been focused on its own objectives and programs, rather than on the needs of the unemployed and potential employers. The federal government decides how much money to transfer to provinces and territories, along with general guidelines as to how the money should be spent. Any negotiation that occurs is solely between the two orders of government.

“There is a lack of ability for all governments in Canada to learn from each other and for pan-Canadian policy to be developed. Each province and territory does the best for its citizens, but there is limited means to ensure strategic labour market policy for Canada as a whole,” he says.

Klassen notes that job programs remain fragmented with a myriad of rules governing how provinces can deliver services to specific groups of clients. “There are four distinct sets of federal-provincial agreements that govern labour market policy, each with its own targeted client group and set of accountability rules. In some cases, provincial and federal governments have programs for the same set of clients, such as for youth and persons with disabilities,” he says.

Klassen and Wood propose the following solutions to these issues:

  • Create a national agency charged with improving the quality, transparency and usefulness of labour market information, reporting and analysis on a pan-Canadian basis.
  • Revitalize the existing federal-provincial-territorial Forum of Labour Market Ministers to act as a multilateral, pan-Canadian intergovernmental body responsible for the determination of employment and training policy in Canada. This forum would consolidate existing separate federal-provincial agreements into one comprehensive master agreement between the federal government and each province or territory.
  • Hand over responsibility to the provinces and territories for the programs it still delivers for youth and persons with disabilities. In this way, provinces could create integrated programs for all those who need job training and upgrading regardless of their age or other characteristics.

“Increasing human capital and returning the unemployed to the workplace is critical for Canada‘s economy,” Klassen says. “With these reforms, Canadians – both workers and employers – will be well prepared to compete in the global economy in the years to come.”

The report is published by the Mowat Centre for Policy Innovation. To download a PDF version, click here.