News

1. Population

I’ve long felt that concerns about Nova Scotia’s “demographic problem” are overblown.

In the first place, if we require younger people and professionals to do important and needed work (and we do!), then we could, you know, pay them more, and we’d find people lining up for those important and needed jobs.

It’s the same people always prattling on about the free market and supply and demand and so forth who suddenly become Soviet-style central planners when it comes to the labour supply, demanding that the government do something! about it. The fact is, they simply don’t want to pay the real costs of labour, and they want the state to intervene to bring in more workers to keep their labour costs down.

I see this time and again among business owners: they bitch and complain about not being able to keep good workers, while also bitching and complaining about the minimum wage and efforts to introduce living wage standards. You want a decent, dependable work force? Pay your help better. It’s as simple as that.

I have a friend who almost weekly sends me job ads for positions that require advanced degrees or vast experience, and yet pay shit wages. I haven’t published these ads for fear that companies will stop listing the salaries; instead, I’ve been silently watching them, and taking note.

But to illustrate today’s post, let me just pick one random example from my friend’s emails. Last July she sent me a job ad from MacDonnell, which provides project management and consulting services for port-related projects.

The ad was seeking a “well organized individual with strong administrative capabilities who can support the delivery of highly specialized educational training programs in the port and marine transportation sector and support general office administration.” The “core responsibilities” included assisting with “Conference organization and marketing”; “Managing relationships with delegates, speakers and sponsors”; “Training program sales support”; “Training program logistics planning”; and “Training material coordination.”

I’ve known people in such positions, and this kind of work is almost always under-appreciated. It requires taking vague directions from managers and turning them into concrete actions, and massaging a lot of egos along the way while producing something worthwhile at the end. If you find someone who can do this work and do it well, you should value them dearly.

In this case, the job ad listed a dozen or so “skill requirements” that included experience and “Sound knowledge of Customer Relationship Management systems,” along with a bunch of mumbo jumbo about multi-tasking, being “result-oriented,” and so forth. Qualifications for the job were an “Undergraduate or Diploma Program in Marketing, Event Management, Public Relations or a related area” and “Advanced MS Office Skills (Word, Excel, Powerpoint).”

So the successful candidate needed a diploma or degree.

The pay?

Remuneration Range; $25,000 – $30,000 per annum.

At the high end of that salary range, that’s about $15/hour. The low end is about $12.50/hour.

As I say, this particular ad is not an outlier; my friend sends me such examples nearly every week.

And we wonder why young people flee for parts west.

Honestly, I think much of the power structure in Nova Scotia would rather shutter their profitable businesses than pay the staff decently. They’re that stuck with keeping the hierarchy starkly defined.

The second reason we shouldn’t get overly concerned about the “demographic problem” is because at some point we need to grapple with the larger environmental issues that a large global human population brings with it. Thankfully, fertility rates are sinking all over the place. Most western countries are far below replacement levels. Japan is actually losing population because it’s a couple of generations into low birth rates and the old people are finally dying off. One of the most successful birth control campaigns in the world is in, believe it or not, Iran, as contraceptives are readily accessible and family planning is encouraged. Much of the rest of the world is following suit, albeit the timelines on these things are long — it’s still too little too late, and (barring catastrophe) the total population will curve upwards for a few decades more before starting to decline.

So I don’t see why we should be encouraging people to be having babies. It’s a good thing that some nations are providing free day care and other incentives for families, but at some point — the sooner the better — we’ll need to make do with fewer people to make the economy work. That flies in the face of continued-growth capitalism, but here we are. We should start thinking about what a zero-growth or negative-growth economy looks like; I’m not at all certain that such an economic order is contrary to our belief in social justice, and indeed may help in the fight against inequality.

All of which is prelude to this Canadian Press article written by Michael MacDonald:

For the first time in a generation, Nova Scotia’s population growth is almost keeping pace with the national average — a development that signals a reversal of fortune for a province that has languished economically for much of the past 25 years.

Statistics Canada confirmed this month that the province’s population had risen for the third consecutive year, adding more than 10,000 residents in the past year alone. That’s a jump of 1.08 per cent in one year, compared to the national average of 1.4 per cent.

For market research expert Don Mills, the strong three-year trend is something to crow about.

“It’s exceptionally good news for the province,” said Mills, CEO of Halifax-based Corporate Research Associates.

“I’m very excited by what’s happening … That has never happened, based on statistics going back 65 years.”

I thought Don Mills was going off into the sunset with his guitar? I’ve never understood why he was the go-to commenter on anything beyond polling, and even there I have my doubts. As I see it, Mills is about as old school as one gets, stuck in a 1980s view of the world, and all the economic perspective and assumption baggage that comes with it: football stadiums are good, paying people more is bad, truly diverse and representative government is frowned upon (Mills was the loudest voice for reducing the size of Halifax council).

Mills’ unneeded cheerleading aside, the reason Nova Scotia’s population blipped a bit upward last year is because of immigration; continues MacDonald:

Between January and October of this year, the number of immigrants coming to Nova Scotia jumped by a whopping 36 per cent when compared to the same period last year, [Fred Bergman, senior policy analyst with the independent Atlantic Provinces Economic Council] said.

As an immigrant myself, I see increased immigration as a good thing — immigrants bring a much-needed cultural and intellectual diversity to an oftentimes overly staid province like Nova Scotia. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with increased immigration and a whole hell of a lot right with it. We should do what we can to encourage immigration, and to keep immigrants here.

But if the point of encouraging and keeping immigrants is merely to keep hiring people for shit wages, we’re doing it wrong. And it won’t work in any event — soon enough, like the home-grown young people before them, immigrants will skedaddle for points west, where their honest work will be respected with honest pay.

In short: Nova Scotia doesn’t have a demographic problem; it has a wage problem.

2. Library sign

The city this morning issued a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) for 11 concrete blocks that will comprise a new sign at the Central Library.

Each block will be one of four colours, defined by the “Davis Colour” architects use — white, Brick Red 160, Outback 677, and Silver Smoke 8084.

The blocks will have words inscribed on them — “equality”; “diversity”, “possibility” and “inspiration”; “connection”; “community” and “inclusion”; “learning”; “creativity” and “art”, “ideas”; “exploration,” “people,” and “technology”; “Halifax Central Library” and “Paul O’Regan Hall.” [Insert my excoriation of naming public assets after private people here.]

The whole thing will be placed out on the corner of Queen Street and Spring Garden Road.

3. Michael Gorman walks in the woods

There are worse assignments than walking the Lunenburg Trail to check out art.


Government

No public meetings.


On campus

Universities are closed.


In the harbour

05:30: Primrose Ace, car carrier, arrives at Autoport from Emden, Germany
06:00: ZIM Luanda, container ship, arrives at Pier 41 from Valencia, Spain
11:00: BW Lioness, oil tanker, sails from Irving Oil for sea
13:00: Tiger, car carrier, sails from Pier 31 for sea
14:00: Bro Agnes, oil tanker, arrives at Irving Oil from Montreal
15:30: Primrose Ace sails for sea
16:30: ZIM Luanda sails for New York
18:00: Bro Agnes sails for sea


Footnotes

Slow news day, so why pretend it’s not?


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Tim Bousquet

Tim Bousquet is the editor and publisher of the Halifax Examiner. Twitter @Tim_Bousquet Mastodon

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20 Comments

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  1. Thanks for putting in print what no one else has about wages in this province. It’s ridiculous. The disparity between wages and cost of living in HRM is a disgrace and obvious to everyone. Any government or municipality not supporting at least a $15 minimum wage needs to be replaced.

  2. Tim…Honestly, I think much of the power structure in Nova Scotia would rather shutter their profitable businesses than pay the staff decently. They’re that stuck with keeping the hierarchy starkly defined. I couldnt of said it better,.. Sadly, here in the maritimes…people have a mentality that “you want too much”,, and its better to work for less money.. I an a 45 yr member offf the IBEW and as a union member,enjoyed a much safer and more profitable workplace.It never ceased to amaze me how anti union people and govts are..people cannt afford to work for peanuts,and govts /employers look for larger immigration to stockpile a pool of cheaper labour..
    Again,thanks for this article..

  3. The wages of full time jobs are largely set by the public sector. They are the largest part of the employment market in NS. The challenge is that the part time or casual market is deeply influenced by retirees from the public sector. They set the wage floor. The challenge is that they are able to retire, collect a pension and return to work as ‘casuals” almost immediately and in so , doing, they hurt everyone. We have new grads with 60k in debt competing for entry level jobs with retirees making $60k a yesr on their pensions who are just using these positions to “top up”. If we said that one could NOT retire from any level of government, and collect remuneration and a pension at the same time from ANY level of government, we we would be taking a considerable step in the right direction.

    It won’t solve the whole problem but this alone would cause the labour market to make significant progress in its desperately needed rebalancing.

    1. I have a family member who works for the public sector on a part-time basis. Her husband makes more than enough money for a comfortable life for both of them and his job provides them with excellent drug & dental, they own their own home and their children are self-sufficient adults. Her sensitivity to how much she is paid and the consistency of her schedule is close to zero. It is obviously her prerogative to do what she wants with her time, but there are tens of thousands of men and women like her in Nova Scotia and it is a real problem.

      From a gov’t perspective income inequality is good for tax revenue because the same amount of wages distributed more unequally means higher tax revenues and more poor people dependent on government services.

  4. As with much, it will be probably be an antidote from the States that digs Canada out of the hole dug by Mulroney, Chretien, Martin and Harper.

    With any luck the backlash against Trump (via Alexandrai Ocasio-Cortez, Beto O’Rourke and Bernie Sanders) will populate Canadian thinking and the neoliberalist virus that has infected the world will finally be expunged (right along with the likes of Don Mills and Stephen MacNeil).

    The government’s role is for the benefit of ALL people not just the Irvings or the McCains or the Thomsons.

  5. Nailed it. This has been my experience looking for work after having a bachelors degree. Degree required for $13-14/h. I was paid less than minimum wage for a Federal Gov’t short-term contractor job. Then look at the trucking industry where we pay truckers the least in the Maritimes in comparison to the rest of North America, yet look at all the trucking jobs posted online.

  6. I know of local businesses that make employees sign documents that seem to contradict labour law. Eg, you agree that if you work more than x hours per week, your employer will claim you worked those hours a different week so they don’t have to pay you overtime. Are you actually allowed to sign your rights away like this? Or is it flat-out illegal?

  7. I do not believe at all that declining fertility rates are a good sign of things to come. The anti-natalist stance always presumes that population is the issue and not capital’s inability to distribute resources and wealth in an equitable way.

    This whole line of thinking is contradictory to me. We shouldn’t encourage people to have babies because “..we’ll need to make do with fewer people to make the economy work.” but immigration is preferable because of “a much-needed cultural and intellectual diversity”. Population growth is ungood via babies and population growth is good via immigration.

    1. I love immigration but feel the same way. The French have all sorts of incentives to encourage people to have more babies even high earners/professionals. That would be unimaginable here as we feel that that group doesn’t need support/encouragement and so they have the least babies. We then need immigration to fill the job vacancies. It’s a different strategy but fits with our collective mindset.

  8. If you want to see what a no-growth economy could look like and how it could work, see Herman Daly’s Steady-State Economics, or indeed chapter 18 of my earlier book called Our Way Out. See also the work of Michael Shulman. There is plenty of good discussion in this topic.

  9. One final comment: The government of the day should have had Tim write the report on the economy. It could have been titled: Pay a Decent Wage, In NS, Never! Ray Ivany must be exceedingly envious of your analysis Tim – although he has the money and the building named after him.

    Final, final comment: Have never been able to figure out why anyone ever thought Don Mills wasn’t just a shill for the neoliberals.

  10. The article on the wage problem and your analysis would have made my subscription worthwhile if I didn’t get anything else from you for the year. I have ranted about this very thing so many times but, not this time – Just read what Tim said!

    TRC makes great points about the scheduling as well. Unfortunately, governments support the precarious, on-time delivery of labour system of economics.

  11. I agree entirely with you. It is something I’ve been saying for years. If supply is low and demand is high, then that is supposed to raise the price for something, right? It sure works that way on the consumer end, when buying goods.

    So why doesn’t it work the same way for wages, if demand for workers is high but the supply is low? And is the supply “low” only because you aren’t willing to pay what you should be paying? If workers can go to other provinces or elsewhere and get paid more, with better benefits, why wouldn’t they? Pay more, and you might find that supply isn’t as big an issue.

    What TRC says regarding the part-time issue is also very true.

  12. Regarding the wage problem: There is a related scheduling problem with part-time work. A common posting is: “The employee will be required to work 15 to 25 hours a week. Shifts vary and include days, evenings and weekends.” The employer is demanding all day, seven day availability for a low-wage, part-time job. An employee cannot combine the job with another-part time job, school, or child care (or social activities or volunteer work). Transportation may be hard to arrange. Few people can take such a position – those that do will probably leave as soon as they can get full-time work or regular hours. Employers then use their difficulty filling these positions to complain about how hard it is to find workers, and free market / anti-welfare advocates point to vacancies such as this as proof that there are lots of jobs available.

    1. Exactly! Also, with many part-time jobs, if you restrict your availability because you need to commit to another part-time job in order to make ends meet, the company will cut back your hours–no matter how much seniority you have. Once you “restrict your availability” seniority no longer matters. The general public does not realize that just about every single retail job in this province (clothing, grocery, restaurant, gas station, etc) is PART-TIME ONLY–days, nights, and weekends. These companies refuse to hire full-time. Managers are not allowed to give their part-time employees more than 32 hours/week and no more than minimum wage, no matter how good an employee is. Just imagine what kind of economy NS could have if people were given full-time work at living wages?