Monday, February 23, 2015

What the Governor of the Bank of Canada saw...

This is a little past due, but it ties in with an excellent post by Stephen Gordon today in the National Post (here) so I thought I would dust it off. The Governor of the Bank of Canada, in a speech to a business crowd and a press conference on November 3 and at the House Committee on Finance on November 4, cited youth unemployment and underemployment as significant features of the sluggish recovery of the Canadian economy since the financial crisis of 2008. He refers multiple time to the hackneyed meme of the young discouraged workers living in their parents’ basement suggesting that they would be better off from a career perspective taking unpaid work for CV building purposes.

By definition, discouraged workers are not in the labour force. They have withdrawn the offer of their labour services due to poor employment prospects. They are neither unemployed nor underemployed. They simply are not labour force participants. The labour force participation rate is the statistic that is used to measure this labour characteristic. So how do the youth labour market participation rates look today compared to the recent past following economic slowdowns. Prior to the financial panic of 2008, there were recessions in Canada in 1991 and 1981. Assuming that the adult children still living in their parents’ basements to which Mr. Poloz refers are in the 20 to 24 age group, here is what the chart looks like.

Statistics Canada. Table 282-0002 - Labour force survey estimates (LFS), by sex and detailed age group,

For males aged 20 to 24, the participation rate dropped precipitously after the 1991 recession from 85.4% in 1989 to 79% in 1998 and never really recovered, remaining within a narrow range between 81.4% and 78.8% until 2011. It fell slightly to 77.1% in 2012, recovering marginally to 77.5% in 2013. The effect of the so-called Great Recession on the participation rate for this group was much less severe than the 1991 recession.

For females in this age group, the participation rate also fell sharply after the 1991 recession, from 78.4% in 1989 to 72.6 in 1998. However, it had recovered to 77.2 by 2003, stabilized at 76% for a few years before dropping in small steps to 75% since 2009, almost exactly what it was in 1981. So, for this group as well, the Great Recession has had much a smaller effect on its participation rate than the 1991 recession.

The unemployment rate for this age group was also much higher following the 1981 recession (20.6% for males, 14.5% for females in 1983) and the 1991 recession (18.7% and 12.8% respectively in 1992) than following the slowdown of 2008, with rates of 14.8% and 9.1% in 2009.

So, can we stop talking about adult children living in their parents’ basements due to a bad economy as somehow emblematic of our times? If adult children really are more likely to stay in the parental home longer than before, lack of affordable housing, expanded educational opportunities and higher student debt may well be more significant factors than poor employment prospects.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Get the generational story right

Interesting article in iPolitics by Frank Graves of EKOS today, using a generational approach to statistical analysis of socio-economic and political trends. I am a big fan of that approach, basically cohort analysis using age cohorts defined generationally.

A problem I had with the article is that he talks of Boomers, Gen X, Gen Y and Millennials but then presents all his findings for the age categories Under 25, 25 to 44, 45 to 64 and Over 65. These categories don’t match and so statements concerning the former but based on the latter are difficult to correlate and are more wrong than they have to be. (Findings reported on broad categories such as these can be perceived as “wrong” simply on the basis that they are generalizations.)

For example, it's not clear if the statements regarding seniors' (age 65+) economic and political behaviours relate to Boomers or other unnamed generations. The very first Boomers we can all agree, were born in 1946. That means that today, the oldest Boomers are 68 years old. If we use 18 years as the span of a generation, then Boomers today are between the ages of 51 and 68. So all the statements in the article regarding the over 65 population are hardly not about Boomers at all, but about previous generations. Indeed, the members of those generations are not quite dead yet.

In 2014, the over 65 population represented 5,585,287, or 15.7% of the Canadian population. Using 5 year age cohorts (it would be better to do this by single years of age), 3,023,480 of them were Depression and War Babies (born between 1928 and 1945) and 730,900 members of the Greatest Generation were still around (born 1910-1927).

Unless this is made explicit, it is very easy for readers to conflate the 65+ population and Boomers, which would throw the whole article out of kilter.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Where's the fire, chief?

The Globe and Mail editorial today asks the question Why the hurry to pass the Fair Elections Act?. The question unfortunately might well be answered in this article in the Ottawa Citizen. It seems that the Commissioner of Canada Elections plans to wrap up his investigation of the electoral fraud perpetrated in the 2011 by March 31. He would then report his findings to the Chief Elections Officer, who could report them to Parliament and Canadians and go forward with any recommendations for prosecution to the Director of Public Prosecution. Unless, of course, the Canada Elections Act is changed by then and the Commissioner is made to report directly to the Director of Public Prosecution, who reports directly to the Minister of Justice/Solicitor General, where the report can be buried indefinitely, with Parliament and the Chief Elections Officer frozen out and Canadians left in the dark. According to James Sprague, former Senior General Counsel for Elections Canada, this is exactly what could happen.

"The new act would forbid the Commissioner of Canada Elections, Yves Cote — who is in charge of investigating election crime — from disclosing “any information relating to an investigation that comes to their knowledge in the exercise of their powers.”

Sprague says that means Canadians may never learn what investigators uncover about fraudulent and deceptive telephone calls in the past election."

A spokesman for Poilievre says no problem, Elections Canada investigators will still be filing court documents. Great, we get to learn about cases of electoral fraud through heavily redacted ITOs obtained kicking and screaming through Access to Information requests by valiant reporters. I feel safer now.

When considering to whom the Commissioner, who is the main enforcement officer and investigator of breaches under the Canada Elections Act, should report, it is probably wise to exclude the potential perpetrators of electoral fraud, i.e. the government in power. That would be like having the cops report to the Mafia. Better to have him report to an independent officer of Parliament, like the Chief Electoral Officer, who reports to Parliament as a whole, all parties, not just the government of the day.

But could the government be so bold as to resort to this bald faced abuse of power to quash the investigation? Is this not an all too obvious ploy? Well, we have seen what happens when this government feels cornered. When they faced a prospective non-confidence motion during their first term, they just shut down Parliament, an unprecedented, draconian attack on our democracy. When a Parliamentary Committee was getting too close to the truth on the government's knowledge of atrocities in Afghanistan, it shut Parliament down again! So, this is just the kind of thing they do when things get too hot.

So there is a race on, and that is why they are in such a hurry.

Monday, February 24, 2014


Well, lots of political hoopla on the weekend, with the Liberals holding their biennial policy convention, the NDP holding their national day of action, and the Conservative PM winning cases of beer from the Americans for Canada's hockey triumphs at the winter Olympics. I don't like this dynamic. Liberals and NDP fighting for attention with the Conservatives basking in the reflective glow of Olympic gold. It reminds me too much of the situation I described in 2011 in my "Don't Split the Vote Canada" post, which listed all the ridings where three way splits meant that a shift of just a few hundred votes could deliver victory.

That post had quite a lot of views actually, and I wouldn't be surprised to find out one day that it reads like a roadmap to electoral fraud in the 2011 election (I say "one day", because we still do not know all the ridings from which electoral fraud complaints have been received). Because it is in ridings like these that phone calls that misdirect just a few hundred voters to non-existent polling stations can yield rich rewards if they are targeted at voters who are known not to support the party making the calls. We know that this is exactly what happened in the 2011 election. A widespread, nationally organized campaign of misinformation aimed at keeping opposition voters away from the polls. That this has occurred has been established by a Federal Court judge and is not contested. But we still do not know who was behind the fraud. How can it be that four years later, the perpetrator or perpetrators of the largest, most serious case of electoral fraud in the country's history has not yet been identified and brought to justice? Is this not a country of laws? Is this not a law and order government? We can't get through another election without getting to the bottom of this question. It seems to me that those responsible for upholding our laws, ie the current government, should be at the forefront of this investigation. Why are they not leading the chase? And if the means currently available to get to the truth are not sufficient, why have increased powers not been legislated into effect so that we can once and for all charge and convict those responsible for these crimes?

Every day, in every forum, we should be asking the government Whodunit?

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

A National Nightmare

I had a bad dream last night. There was a funny clown, a sad clown and a scary clown.

The funny clown left, laughing all the way. The sad clown left too, crying. Then, the scary clown called his sidekick.

"Oily, come here you little runt. Now that we had to deep six the democratic reform chief Del Mastiff for his electoral irregularities (HA HA HA, that kills me... so funny...), you are in charge of this file. So, if we wanted to change the Canada Elections Act to make it easier for us to keep doing the kind of cheating we have been, and need to keep doing to get elected, what would you propose?"

"Don't worry boss. We got it covered. The main problem is that the Chief Electoral Officer has a big mouth. Every time he finds the tiniest bit of cheating, boom, out it goes and Canadians find out. So we can change the Act so that all he can say publicly is where the polls are and when they are open."

"Really? We can do that? No whistleblowing?"


"No press releases on anything?"


"No campaigns to encourage people to do their civic duty and vote?"


"Sweet. What else you got?"

"Well, the next big problem is their enforcer, the Commish. Even though he has no teeth, a short reach and his hands are tied, he's still a problem. Right now, if he thinks there is a case that should be prosecuted, he brings it to the Director of Public Prosecutions, you know the guy that reports directly to MacKay, whose mandate includes initiating and conducting prosecutions on behalf of the Crown with respect to offences under the Canada Elections Act. As soon as he does that, it's all over the news. So to fix that, we will have the Commissioner of Canada Elections report directly to the Director of Public Prosecutions. MacKay will be the boss of him, if you know what I mean...."

"HA HA HA. MacKay, boss of him. That's so funny...You're killing me, Oily. Well, that's great. We should be good to go."

"There's one more thing boss. Not a big problem, but I thought you would like this. There is this thing called vouching, where poor saps who don't have ID, and don't vote Conservative, can get someone else to vouch for them so they can vote. We'll take that out. That should take about 100,000 non-Conservative votes away."

"Oh Oily, you've outdone yourself this time. This is fantastic! What are you going to call this bill, the Awesome Elections Act?"

(Blushing) "No boss, we are using our standard communications policy. Call everything the exact opposite of what it is. We're calling it the Fair Elections Act."

I woke up in a sweat. And then I realized, IT WASN'T A DREAM. It was really happening, right now, in our country.

Monday, February 10, 2014

The Fair to Poor Elections Act

All through the Senate scandal debacle and the Ford follies last year, I was thinking, keep your eye on the prize. These are all petty diversions to keep everyone's attention away from the really serious stuff that could harm the governing party's electoral prospects in 2015. In my view, the serious matter is the voter fraud/suppression methods used in the last election by the Conservatives to get themselves elected to a majority. We have heard of individual instances of minor irregularities, like the Del Mastro case I wrote about in the last post, but the really big case, the massive, centrally organized telephone campaign of voter misdirection/suppression, remains unattributed to anyone. The fact that there was just such a massive, centrally organized campaign in the 2011 election, that it was conducted through the telecom facilities of the supplier of such services retained by the Conservative party, that it used the electoral database maintained by the Conservative party, that it targeted voters who had signalled in this database that they did not support the Conservatives, is not in question. It was declared a matter of fact, based on evidence, by a federal judge in the case brought by the Council of Canadians, to wit:

"I am satisfied that is has been established that misleading calls about the locations of polling stations were made to electors in ridings across the country, including the subject ridings, and that the purpose of those calls was to suppress the votes of electors who had indicated their voting preference in response to earlier voter identification calls.

[245] In reaching this conclusion, I make no finding that the CPC, any CPC candidates, or RMG and RackNine Inc., were directly involved in the campaign to mislead voters. To require the applicants to identify the perpetrators of the misleading calls would impose an impossibly high standard of proof. I am satisfied, however, that the most likely source of the information
used to make the misleading calls was the CIMS database maintained and controlled by the CPC, accessed for that purpose by a person or persons currently unknown to this Court. There is no evidence to indicate that the use of the CIMS database in this manner was approved or condoned by the CPC. Rather the evidence points to elaborate efforts to conceal the identity of those accessing the database and arranging for the calls to be made.

[246] I find that the threshold to establish that fraud occurred has been met by the applicants."

So an electoral crime was committed, but the perpetrators have not yet been identified. And so it has stood for nearly four years now, with only one charge laid, against the hapless Michael Sona in Guelph. Whatever investigative bodies we have in these matters, and whatever investigative means they have at their disposal, have failed to bring to justice the persons or organizations who have committed the most serious crime against our democratic electoral processes in our country's history. Again from Justice Mosley:

"There may have been isolated instances of electoral misbehaviour in the past but, as noted above, incidents of voter suppression of the nature discussed in these reasons have not been known in this country prior to the 41st General Election. For that reason, I don’t doubt that the confidence rightfully held by Canadians has been shaken by the disclosures of widespread fraudulent activities that have resulted from the Commissioner’s investigations and the complaints to Elections Canada."

So, rather than waiting for the other show to drop, the Conservatives go on the offensive, as ususal, and launch "The Fair Elections Act". I think it is "fair" only in the sense that "fair" is a rating between "poor" and "good". More on this tomorrow.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Keep the focus on CPC electoral fraud

The Del Mastro story is back in the news today, and a good thing. It's an old story, first reported in June 2012, but it needs to be brought back to the surface on occasion as it is a reminder of how the Conservative Party of Canada flouts electoral law at every turn. The Del Mastro case is indicative of what seems to be a very common attitude this party has in relation to the laws and conventions that regulate our public processes and institutions: Where are the loopholes? How can I get around it? How far can I stretch it? An attitude that carries over from a business world view perhaps, as for example in relation to taxation and regulation. This one is pretty small potatoes: getting a small business owner cousin of his to entice 22 employees, friends and family to each contribute $1000 to the campaign, all of whom are then reimbursed fully plus a $50 bonus. The employees each make $50 at no cost to them, plus a small tax deduction, the campaign gets $22,000 and the cousin gets to effectively contribute way above the campaign contribution limit of $1100. Maybe he just wants to see his cousin win, or maybe he thinks it can't hurt future business prospects, who knows? Why he did it or whether it actually resulted in any benefit to him does not matter. The simple fact is that this type of scheme is unlawful under the Canada Elections Act. From the ITO, it seems the money trail is pretty clear. It will be interesting to see how this plays out if and when it gets to court. Meanwhile, Del Mastro will need to defend himself in a separate court case dealing with yet another breach of the Elections Act, which also first surfaced in June 2012.

This is the MP personally selected by Stephen Harper as his Parliamentary Secretary in 2011 and given the role of government point man on the Robocall election scandal. Takes one to know one I guess. In a now familiar pattern, the PM stoutly defended Del Mastro when the allegations first surfaced.