With unemployment high, Ontario focuses on Jobs and Growth

Employed worker -- not Ontario

With the release of the 2013-14 first quarter finances report, Ontario Finance Minister Charles Sousa has announced the start of his own consultations on the economy.

The focus (allegedly) is on "jobs and growth" .

The formal pre-budget consultations with a committee of the legislature usually start in the late fall or winter. So Sousa's consultations (which have already begun) are getting the jump.

If words mean much, the emphasis is quite different than under Dwight Duncan.

Sousa's release headlines “The Path to Jobs and Growth”.

Duncan's release of last year's first quarter finances sounded more like his imitation of the grim reaper, focusing exclusively on the deficit and the "strong action" he was taking to deal with it (“First Quarter Finances Show Strong Action Plan Working -- McGuinty Government On Track to Eliminate Deficit”).

Duncan, if you recall, was just launching his attack on public sector collective bargaining. (
That didn't end well for Duncan -- or McGuinty -- but did add a little more spark to the labour movement.)

The (claimed) focus by Sousa on jobs and growth is (hopefully) a response to the weak employment situation in Ontario. 

Adding misery to a bad situation, last week's Stats Can employment report saw declines in July in both the public sector and the private sector in Ontario, with 23,600 lost jobs in the public sector and 10,000 in the private sector, just under 34,000 down the drain in total.

That increased the unemployment rate 0.1%. Ontario is now well above the national average: 7.6% compared to 7.2%, a bit of a turn-around from the good old days when Ontario was the economic backbone of the country. 

Unemployment in Ontario would have gone up more except for a big increase in the so-called "self employed" -- which can be a pretty dubious way of being "employed".

"The Path to Jobs and Growth” makes it sound like they might try something new. But there are no signs of a jobs strategy.

Sousa merely repeated the same sort of mantra to the Toronto Star that Duncan might have: "creating a competitive business climate, investing in modern infrastructure, establishing a highly skilled workforce, promoting entrepreneurship and innovation, and working with businesses to expand access to global markets". 

So rather than any major change in focus, Sousa's release may just be a change in tone, to Kathleen Wynne's preferred, kinder, gentler tone. “Dialogue” is the focus.  Certainly the McGuinty / Duncan anti-union approach of last year was killing the Liberal brand. 

But we will see if Wynne's change in tone makes any matter.

The First Quarter Numbers
Sousa is, so far, sticking to the rather high deficit estimate that the government made in the last Budget ($11.7 B -- considerably higher than last year’s deficit).

(Duncan always high-balled the deficit numbers at the beginning of the year and then beat those estimates at the end of the year, as if he was some middle manager with a low opinion of the intelligence of his principals.)

Otherwise there are few material changes since the Budget: expenditures, interest on debt, and revenue estimates remain exactly the same as in the Budget, as do the projections for real economic growth this year and next (1.5% and 2.3%).

Photo: Jonathon Koss-Reid Workers in Beijing.

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