Baloney Meter: Will the Ontario PC plan really help create one million jobs?
Thursday, May 22, 2014 05:45 am
OTTAWA - "When it comes to jobs, big achievements start with bold goals. That's why we are proposing a plan that will help create one million jobs over the next eight years."
— Ontario PC Party, "Million Jobs Plan"
Part of Ontario PC Leader Tim Hudak's pitch to voters is a plan he says will help create a million jobs in the province by 2022. The proposal on the party's website does not provide a detailed breakdown, but a technical backgrounder released to journalists last week offers some insight into how they arrived at the million-jobs number.
So, will Hudak's plan actually help create one million jobs over the next eight years?
Spoiler alert: The Canadian Press Baloney Meter is a dispassionate examination of political statements that culminates in a ranking of accuracy based on a scale of "no baloney" to "full of baloney" (complete methodology below).
This one earns a rating of "some baloney." Here's why.
First, let's look at the numbers. To create a million jobs, Ontario's economy would need to average 125,000 jobs a year over the next eight years.
That's an ambitious goal for a province that has averaged roughly 83,000 jobs a year since 1976, according to Statistics Canada data.
That said, there have been years where Ontario's economy added more than 125,000 jobs. But most of those years were in the mid-1980s and late 1990s, and the last time the province's economy added at least 125,000 jobs was 2003.
Nor have there been eight consecutive years since 1976 where the province averaged 125,000 jobs.
Setting that aside for a moment, let's take a look at Hudak's plan.
The Tories have assumed Ontario's economy will add 65,400 jobs a year over the next eight years if the status quo is maintained. That works out to 523,200 jobs by 2022.
This baseline level of growth is based on the past decade's yearly average, the Tories say.
So right off the top, it's assumed that half the jobs Hudak is promising would probably be created anyway if the policies of the last 10 years remain in place, regardless of who wins the election.
The Progressive Conservatives say their annual projection of 65,400 jobs errs on the side of modest growth and falls far below the annual provincial job average since 1976.
The rest of the numbers are tricky — if not downright impossible — to quantify.
Take the corporate tax cut. Hudak's plan would lower the corporate income tax rate to eight per cent from 11.5 per cent. This, according to the plan, would create exactly 119,808 jobs by 2022.
The thinking behind this is that companies would use the tax savings to hire more workers and make other investments.
But whether that would actually happen is not at all certain. Business investment remained soft after the federal government cut corporate income taxes. Former Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney once lamented the fact that companies were sitting on piles of "dead money" instead of reinvesting it into the economy to expand and create jobs.
The other elements of Hudak's plan are equally difficult to assess. Would easing gridlock in and around Toronto create 96,000 jobs by 2022? Maybe, maybe not. What about cutting red tape? Would fewer regulations add 84,800 jobs over the next eight years? Again, it's hard to say.
Another source of jobs in Hudak's plan is the Ring of Fire mining region in northwestern Ontario, which is rich in chromite, used to make stainless steel, as well as other minerals, including nickel and copper.
The Tories project 4,400 jobs will be created by 2022. The source of that number is a study by the Ontario Chamber of Commerce, which says the Ring of Fire will sustain up to 5,500 jobs a year within the first decade of its development.
But the project hit a major snag last November when Cliffs Natural Resources Inc., which was going to invest $3 billion, abruptly pulled out.
The company suspended its operations indefinitely, saying it couldn't spend that kind of money when there was still doubt over whether an all-weather road to the remote site would be built.
A proposal for the costly north-south route has become mired in legal and political battles. Development of the project will also depend on whether Ottawa and Queen's Park can come to an agreement over their share of funding for the Ring of Fire.
WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY
"Regardless of how they arrived at the numbers, you've got to wonder where such precise numbers could ever come from," said economist Scott Clark, a former Finance Department official who teaches at Carleton University.
"I have never seen, in all of my 30-40 years, anyone attach that degree of precision to any analysis of any policy change. I just don't know where that kind of thing comes from."
Clark questioned whether cutting the corporate income tax rate would yield the results the Tories are claiming in their plan.
"There was no positive response from the corporate tax cut at the federal level," he said.
"It's hard to believe at the provincial level — when we're still recovering from the recession — that companies are simply going to start cranking up new investment plans when there's so much uncertainty about where demand is going to come from."
Some other economists felt the projected job numbers were not out of the question. But they, too, questioned the precision of the figures.
"This thing says a lot, and it says nothing," Ryerson University economics professor Eric Kam said of the Tory background document.
"The first thing, the job-creation record, at least that's using some data that's real data ... the rest of this is absolutely a leap of faith. But it's not an impossible leap of faith."
Most of the jobs Hudak is promising come from supply-side policies, Kam said. Those include policies such as changing the tax rate, tariffs, quotas and other indirect stimulus.
"These don't create anything," he said. "All these do is save money."
Demand-side policies, on the other hand, generally involve increasing or decreasing spending.
Kam doesn't put much stock into the job projections themselves.
"Is it doable? Yes. Are those numbers carved in stone? To be blunt with you, I don't even look at those numbers," Kam said. "I look at those numbers, I see pluses and minuses. That's what I see."
It's difficult to tell if Hudak's plan will help create a million jobs, agreed University of Toronto economics professor Jack Carr.
But he says while "a million jobs" makes for a catchy sound bite, the real focus should be on productivity and economic growth.
"The emphasis should be on efficiency and on stimulating growth in the economy," Carr said. "All these things (in Hudak's plan) will stimulate growth."
Half the jobs Hudak is promising would be created anyway if a Progressive Conservative government simply kept doing what the Liberals have done for the last decade. That much the technical backgrounder acknowledges.
So calling it the "Million Jobs Plan" may be somewhat misleading if new policies or policy changes would only account for about half the jobs.
The absence of quantifiable information makes the rest of the plan rather difficult to assess. For these reasons, Hudak's claim has "some baloney" to it.
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
Ontario PC Party, Million Jobs Planhttp://ontariopc.com/millionjobsplan/
Statistics Canada, Labour force survey estimates (LFS), by sex and detailed age grouphttp://www5.statcan.gc.ca/cansim/a05?lang=eng&id=2820002
Statistics Canada, Labour force survey estimates (LFS), by sex and age group, seasonally adjusted and unadjustedhttp://www5.statcan.gc.ca/cansim/a05?lang=eng&id=2820087
Ontario Chamber of Commerce, "Beneath the Surface: Uncovering the Economic Potential of Ontario’s Ring of Fire"http://www.occ.ca/Publications/Beneath_the_Surface_web.pdf