OTTAWA — “Since we formed government, the Canadian economy has created over 60 per cent more full-time jobs than the Conservatives did over the same time period.” — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Aug. 14, 2018.
Hoping to beat back Conservative claims that their environment-friendly agenda is a costly jobs killer, the Liberal government has been burnishing its economic record lately, insisting that it has done better at creating jobs than its Tory predecessor.
It’s an important exercise in spin for a government whose central brand is about convincing Canadians that “the environment and the economy go hand-in-hand” — that fighting climate change, in other words, needn’t come at the expense of economic growth.
Hence the recent message from Trudeau and other cabinet ministers that since being elected in 2015, the Liberal government has created 60 per cent more jobs in Canada than the Conservatives did during the same time period.
Are they telling the truth?
Spoiler alert: The Canadian Press Baloney Meter is a dispassionate examination of political statements culminating in a ranking of accuracy on a scale of “no baloney” to “full of baloney” (complete methodology below).
This one earns a rating of “a lot of baloney.” Here’s why.
Officials in the Prime Minister’s Office pointed to Employment Minister Patty Hajdu’s office to provide a breakdown of how Trudeau came up with that 60 per cent figure.
Veronique Simard, a spokeswoman for Hajdu, said the Liberal government created 542,500 full-time jobs in the 33 months since winning the 2015 election, while the Conservatives under former prime minister Stephen Harper “created just 322,300 full-time jobs in its last 33 months in office.”
Trudeau wasn’t the only one spreading the message: in a response to Conservative finance critic Pierre Poilievre deriding the Liberal carbon plan as a “job killer,” Environment Minister Catherine McKenna tweeted, “Our government has created 60 per cent more jobs than the Harper Conservatives did in the same time period.”
“The Canadian economy is humming,” she wrote. “Our emissions are dropping. We have a plan and it’s working.”
To calculate the number of jobs created over a specific period, The Canadian Press relied on figures from Statistics Canada for full-time jobs each month. The agency reports the total number of people employed monthly, which stood at 15.1 million full-time workers in July.
Calculations by CP confirmed the data provided by Hajdu’s office: 542,500 new full-time jobs between October 2015 and July 2018, and just 322,300 new jobs between January 2013 and October 2015 — a difference, for the record, of 59.4 per cent.
But there’s more to the claim than just the numbers.
For one thing, there’s the familiar political convention of taking credit for economic growth — a practice that brings to mind the old saw about “lies, damned lies and statistics.”
Any suggestion that the Liberals are “somehow responsible” for those numbers confuses the sequence of events with causality, said Stephen Gordon, an economics professor at Laval University.
“The fact that this is done so often doesn’t make it any less wrong,” said Gordon — no fan, he said, of using such statistics to suggest that the arrival of any new government results in more jobs.
But for the sake of argument, the Liberals should be comparing their first 33 months not with the end of the Harper era, but the beginning — a period that saw 635,400 new jobs between January 2006 and October 2008.
“If you’re going to argue that the arrival of a Liberal government leads to increased employment, you might as well argue that the arrival of a Conservative government has an even stronger effect on employment,” Gordon said.
“It’s a stupid game to be playing, and I wish politicians would stop playing it.”
Governments often “claim credit for — and take blame for — economic performance for which they often have little control,” added Emmett Macfarlane, a political science professor at the University of Waterloo.
“Stephen Harper was no more responsible for the 2008 global recession than Justin Trudeau was for job growth in the month he was elected.”
Using month-by-month statistics to measure performance in the job market can be unreliable, since the story can change dramatically, depending on which months are chosen as reference points, said Sheila Block, senior economist from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.
During the Conservative government’s first 33 months in office, the economy was booming, while their last 33 months included a collapse in oil prices, she noted.
In truth, governments of all stripes take credit for short-term and medium-term economic indicators that are actually beyond their control. And they are selective about the data they choose to promote, as well as the time frames, to ensure it supports their narrative.
Indeed, by contrasting their first 33 months with the Conservative government’s last 33 months, they are effectively comparing apples and oranges.
The Baloney Meter is a project of The Canadian Press that examines the level of accuracy in statements made by politicians. Each claim is researched and assigned a rating based on the following scale:
No baloney — the statement is completely accurate.
A little baloney — the statement is mostly accurate but more information is required.
Some baloney — the statement is partly accurate but important details are missing.
A lot of baloney — the statement is mostly inaccurate but contains elements of truth.
Full of baloney — the statement is completely inaccurate.
Janice Dickson, The Canadian Press