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October 5, 2012

Misleading Government Ads

On October 4th the government kicked off a saturation ad campaign under the banner of its jobs plan. I saw its ad run at least four times during the evening news on Global and several more times during the noon news the next day. You can bet it's running that often on all the stations. Expect to see a lot of your tax dollars used between now and the May 2013 election as the Liberals try to cling to power. What you cannot expect is to see the cost of the ad campaign; that won't come out until after the election. When asked for the number the government will say: wait for the public accounts; they won't be released until July 2013.

Both the government ads and its news releases are misleading. The jobs plan was announced September 22, 2011 but the government is using August 2011 as its start date. The reason is no doubt because of an unexpected statistical quirk. When the September 2011 employment figures were released the first week in October, there was a jump between August and September 2011 of 27,900 in the seasonally adjusted employment figures. If you look at employment growth between the announcement of the jobs plan in September 2011 and the latest month, September 2012, you get job growth of 29,500; if you revise the start date of the plan to August 2011, the increase becomes 57,400. Statistical abnormalities like that are one of the reasons it pays to look at the data over a longer period rather than focusing on cherry-picked dates.

Sept BC Job GrowthThe graph shown here updates the one from my September 8th article by plotting the data for September 2012: 1.3% growth between September 2011 and September 2012. Far from being the good news touted by the Liberals, the latest month shows declining rate of job growth. When provinces are ranked for job growth between September 2011 and September 2012, BC's 1.3% puts it in fifth spot behind NL, MN, SK and AB. In August 2012 employment in BC made up 13.3% of the Canadian total, but BC gained only 10.9% of national job growth in September.

Of course the government's news releases and ads have little to do with reality; they are all about spin and the upcoming election. You might think that they would be sensitive to criticism over spending your taxes on misleading advertisements at the same time they project a $1.4 billion deficit, but a party that is 17 points behind in the opinion polls probably thinks it has nothing more to lose.

To repeat what I wrote last month: Statistics Canada recently made access to its socialeconomic database (CANSIM) free. Click here and you can see the labour force survey estimates. Click on the add/remove tab at the top and you can select British Columbia, employment, both sexes, 15 years and over, seasonally adjusted; or you can select any other combination of data that interests you. Most importantly, you can use CANSIM to fact-check government news releases.



September 8, 2012

Job Growth

Following Statistics Canada's release of the August Labour Force Survey (LFS) figures, jobs Minister Pat Bell issued an incorrectly titled news release, promoting BC from third to first spot in August 2011 to August 2012 job creation. His claim was promptly spread through Twitter by many BC Liberal MLAs and their supporters. The trick Bell used was to rank provincial job growth by absolute numbers rather than by percentage growth, hence with its larger population BC would almost always outrank the smaller provinces. When percentage job growth is considered BC's 2.3% job growth between August 2011 and August 2012 is less than Saskatchewan's 3.6% or Newfoundland and Labrador's 3.1%. You would think that a government which has lost trust and credibility wouldn't try to play fast and loose with the economic figures.

BC Job GrowthThe graph displayed here shows 35 years of BC job growth measured as the percentage change in any month relative to the same month in the previous year. You can see several recessions when there were job loses; 1983 being the most severe. You can also see a long term downward trend in job growth. Growth of 2.3% is good but it is nothing spectacular in historical terms. It is definitely not evidence that BCs jobs plan is working; rather it is what we would expect as normal growth.

Statistics Canada recently made access to its socialeconomic database (CANSIM) free. Click here and you can see the labour force survey estimates. Click on the add/remove tab at the top and you can select British Columbia, employment, both sexes, 15 years and over, seasonally adjusted; or you can select any other combination of data that interests you. Most importantly, you can use CANSIM to fact-check government news releases.