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Labour Market Insights: High absence rates, working from home and other labour market trends in Ontario

Commentary

It’s no surprise that COVID-19 continues to have an ongoing influence on employment trends in Ontario. Throughout the past 22 months, employment has ebbed and flowed as all sectors have been impacted by the public health measures put into place by the province.

As readers may know, between January 5 and January 31, Ontario moved backwards to Step Two of its Roadmap to Reopen plan. This involved the reimposition of public health measures including reduced social gatherings, encouraged remote work, closed indoor dining and gyms, and reduced capacity to 50 percent for retail and various other businesses. It also resulted in students were learning virtually until January 17.

As we will see from the following data, courtesy of Workforce WindsorEssex’s unique data source which covers job postings from across the province (excluding the City of Toronto and the far north-eastern region), these restrictions certainly impacted some sectors more than others. The employment data bears out these differentiated impacts.

The 10 most in-demand occupations in January 2022 compared to the previous month were as follows:

Over the month of January, the top-10 in-demand occupations constituted over one-quarter of all job postings (46,528 job postings or 28.8 percent) in the covered regions. The number of active job postings decreased by 1,321 in January 2022 relative to December 2021 from total postings of 162,852 to 161,531. This represents a month-over-month decrease of 0.8 percent in terms of active job postings.

Looking at Statistics Canada’s labour numbers for the whole of Ontario, the province lost about 50,000 jobs – from 7,601,700 in December 2021 to 7,551,000 in January – which represented a 0.7 percent reduction in total employment. Yet these employment levels are still up 5.5 percent compared to January 2021 and 1.5 percent compared to January 2020.

Two occupation groups – (1) Food Counter Attendants, Kitchen Helpers and Related Support Occupations and (2) Cooks fell in demand for the third straight month (down 26 percent and 15.7 percent, respectively, in January relative to December). This is to be somewhat expected. The public health measures in place in January were challenging for restaurants and bars, which were closed to indoor dining and had to rely on delivery and takeout options as demand for outdoor dining dipped due to cold temperatures.

In fact, according to Statistics Canada, employment in Accommodation and Food Services decreased 7.2 percent province-wide in January as compared to December with 361,700 employed in the sector in January and 389,900 in December. This is up 11.3 percent from 324,900 compared to January 2021, but still more than 19 percent below employment levels in January 2020.

Job postings for Other Customer and Information Service Representatives were up 3.7 percent in January as compared to December. Other Customer and Information Service Representatives includes customer and information services representatives who answer enquiries and provide information regarding an establishment’s goods, services, and policies and who provide customer services such as receiving payments and processing requests for services. They are employed by retail establishments, contact centres, insurance, telecommunications, and utility companies and other organizations throughout the private and public sectors. As this work is typically performed in an office environment, it is likely that the majority working in this occupation were engaged in remote work during the month of January.

Those employed in Transportation and Warehousing in Ontario increased 0.5 percent province-wide with 386,000 employed in January compared to 384,200 in December, according to Statistics Canada. This is also up 10.2 percent from 350,200 in January 2021, but still below pre-pandemic levels of 396,700 (or 2.7 percent) in January 2020.

This sector includes organizations involved in transporting passengers and goods, warehousing and storing goods, and providing services to these establishments. The modes of transportation are road (such as trucking, transit, and ground passenger), rail, water, air, and pipeline. Important to note is that the Transportation and Warehousing sector also includes national post offices and courier establishments and in fact Canada Post was 11th on list of top-10 companies hiring in January with 862 active job postings. We also saw employers increase the number of job postings for Transport Truck Drivers in January by 14.7 percent over December.

The top-10 companies hiring in January 2022 compared to the previous month were as follows:

We can also see the impacts of the public health measures here. McDonald’s Restaurants, which ranked second on the list in December, did not make the top-10 in large part because it typically hires (1) Food Counter Assistants, Kitchen Helpers and Related Support Occupations and (2) Cooks—both of which saw declines in job postings.

We do see places like Lowe’s Canada, The Home Depot Canada, Walmart Canada, and others that would hire Retail Salespersons prominent on the list. Other companies, like TD Canada Trust, Scotiabank Canada, and Rogers Communications Canada Inc. would account for the increase in postings of Other Customer and Information Service Representatives.

With the restrictions in place throughout January now somewhat relaxed and further restrictions slated to ease on February 21, we may see increased numbers for job postings next months as businesses across the province grapple with the changing employment landscape.

For more information about Workforce WindsorEssex and their valuable LMI, please visit workforcewindsoressex.com.

Joanna Baron: Invoking the Emergencies Act requires a high threshold. The government has not met it

Commentary

The Trudeau government has invoked the Emergencies Act for the first time in Canadian history, and it is on extremely shaky footing to do so. 

The Act sets out four kinds of emergencies: public welfare emergency, public order emergency, international emergency, and war emergency. The federal government asserts in its Order in Council that this is a public order emergency, which the Act defines as an emergency so serious it is a “national emergency” and that it “seriously threatens” the ability of the government to preserve the sovereignty, security, and territorial integrity of Canada. This is quite clearly a high bar, and there is no obvious evidence available to the public that it has been met at this time. 

This term, the “threat to the security of Canada”, is defined in the Act to remove ambiguity about when this extraordinary piece of government power can be exercised. A “threat to the security of Canada”, under the Act, includes espionage or sabotage, foreign-influenced activities detrimental to Canada’s interests, support of a threat or use of serious violence to achieve a political, religious or ideological objective and activities, and finally, actions directed to destroy or overthrow Canada’s government. 

Notably, “lawful advocacy, protest or dissent” are explicitly excluded from threats to the security of Canada, except in combination with the specific types of acts listed above. 

It was disturbing, then, to see Justice Minister Lametti’s conclusory assertion that the current protests are unlawful. A bare assertion that protests which have largely been free from violence or property damage are unlawful sets a disturbing precedent. It also reeks of hypocrisy in a country that has in recent memory seen church burnings, railroad blockades, and statue topplings with little police crackdown.

In a free democracy, it’s disconcerting for nonviolent protest to summarily be deemed a legal emergency. Whatever you make of the cause, protest is an activity that is the lifeblood of vibrant democracies. Even The New York Times Editorial Board, calling the trucker protests “a test of democracy”, opined that “We disagree with the protesters’ cause, but they have a right to be noisy and even disruptive. Protests are a necessary form of expression in a democratic society, particularly for those whose opinions do not command broad popular support. Governments have a responsibility to prevent violence by protesters, but they must be willing to accept some degree of disruption by those seeking to be heard.”

The Act also contains strict requirements which must be met before it may be invoked. The crisis must “exceed the capacity or authority of a province to deal with it” and the federal government must consult with the provinces and obtain the agreement of Cabinet prior to invoking the Act. Within one week of the Act’s declaration, Parliament must approve it. Vitally, the Act also specifies that in order for the Act to be applicable, the emergency “cannot be effectively dealt with under any other law of Canada.”

The case for a true inter-provincial crisis is more compelling in the case of the Coutts, Emerson, and especially Windsor border crossings—disruption to our U.S. trade arteries transcends domestic politics, and the loss of hundreds of millions of dollars in trade per day indeed constitutes a national threat. However, the Windsor Police, with reinforcements from across Ontario, safely and swiftly cleared the Ambassador Bridge on February 11 and 12. Alberta and Manitoba have resisted any application of the Act in their provinces, saying they have all the resources they need to manage the crisis. 

As for the Ottawa police, their ineptitude is disgraceful. Reporting has suggested that the primary problem is a failure from the leadership: even granted additional resources, they have no plan for how to deploy them, Chief Peter Sloly seemed convinced that there was no policing solution a few days into the protests. (He has since resigned). But declaring the nuclear option in the form of the Emergencies Act does not functionally change any of that.

Invoking the Act would still grant the government some narrow additional powers. It would allow the feds to block off travel between areas of the country, evacuate persons, and remove personal property. They will be able to compel tow truck operators to remove vehicles, which has been a major problem in Ottawa. They also could ban “any public assembly that may reasonably be expected to lead to a breach of the peace”, although, again, this seems to be well within the purview of existing police powers.

Finally, there is the matter of the “follow the money” financial measures announced by Minister Chrystia Freeland yesterday to eventually be permanent by way of new legislation. Crowdfunding platforms and cryptocurrency exchanges will now be required to report transactions over $10,000 to FINTRAC, which seems like a reasonable legal gap to fill. The directive announced requesting that banks freeze and suspend accounts suspected to be involved in supporting the protests without a court order, however, sent a chill down my spine.

Freeland stated: “As of today, a bank or other financial service provider will be able to immediately freeze or suspend an account without a court order.” They will also be protected against lawsuits for freezings accounts in good faith. On its face, this sounds like an invitation for banks to arbitrarily seize the private property of those suspected of involvement with the protests, without any built-in right to apply for reconsideration, whether intentional or inadvertent. The Emergencies Act is subject to the Charter, but this proposal looks like a violation of the Charter’s section 8 guarantee to be free from unreasonable search and seizure. What could possibly go wrong?

Finally, the Act has a built-in mechanism that mandates an inquiry following its invocation. Within sixty days after the expiration or revocation of a declaration of emergency, the Governor in Council must “cause an inquiry to be held into the circumstances that led to the declaration being issued and the measures taken for dealing with the emergency.” But this government owes the country an explanation for invoking these extraordinary measures immediately.