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Canadian employment insurance lags needs of today's jobs market: Drummond report Add to ...

These are stories Report on Business is following Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2012. Get the top business stories through the day on BlackBerry or iPhone by bookmarking our mobile-friendly webpage.

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EI broke, Drummond report says I don't want this to get lost in the hand-wringing over health care and education: Ontario's Drummond report warns today that the Employment Insurance system in Canada doesn't have what it takes in today's labour market.

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It's something to which policy makers should pay attention in this post-crisis era of high unemployment, which in Ontario is running at 8.1 per cent, above the national average, with almost 600,000 people searching for work.

"A growing number of organizations have criticized the federal Employment Insurance (EI) program for not meeting the needs of the modern labour market," the report by economist Don Drummond and his colleagues said.

"In 2010, Ontarians contributed about 40 per cent of EI premiums, yet received only 32 per cent of benefits and 31 per cent of funding allocated for training," they said in the 532-page document.

"It is unclear to what extent reform of the EI system might reduce pressure on Ontario’s social assistance budget. However, it is clear that unemployed Ontarians do not now receive equitable income support and appropriate training opportunities to facilitate their return to the work force. In addition, an increasing proportion of people who are either new workers (new immigrants) or youth in non-standard employment (such as part-time, multiple jobs, temporary employment) do not quality for EI."

The federal government, the report noted, provides "significant" funding through labour market agreements, but it's caught in a patchwork that leads to "fragmented and distorted policy making." The report offered a way forward, though.

"Since many of these agreements are about to expire, the opportunity is ripe for a single new arrangement that should devolve all remaining training responsibility, specifically for youth and persons with disabilities, to the province. This would provide Ontario with sufficient flexibility to fully integrate these services ... respond to its fluid labour market needs and innovate using small-scale pilot projects. Despite the many programs, there is no coherent strategy based on clear targets and performance measures linked to outcomes. Labour market information needs improvement. Rather than just count the clients it serves, the government should track outcomes - did clients get jobs, and for how long and at what wages? Also, the province needs better data so it can better target labour market programs."

Euro tensions mount

Tensions in the euro zone mounted today as Greece and Germany traded barbs, though there appeared to be some progress in the debt crisis as finance ministers met by telephone.

"I am confident that the euro group will be able to take all the necessary decisions on Monday 20 February," Jean Claude Juncker, who heads the finance ministers, said in a statement after the call.

Of course, that just kicks to Monday what was to have been decided this week in the backing and forthing over whether and when Athens gets a further €130-billion in bailout funds.

Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos warned his own people that several other countries no longer want Greece in the euro zone, which shouldn't surprise anyone given that the debt crisis has run for two years now.

"At play for our generation is either sacrifices and cutbacks, or national catastrophe that can carry away our society, our institutions and democracy," he said, according to Agence France-Presse.

Greece is staring a default in the face, with a big bond redemption looming in late March.

Germany's outspoken finance minister, Wolfgang Schaeuble, stoked some controversy when he said his government wants to help Athens but won't throw money into a "bottomless pit."

Such comments inflamed Greece's President, Karolos Papoulias, who responded that "we are all obliged to work hard to get through this crisis, but we cannot accept insults from Mr. Schaeuble."

Euro economy shrinks Amid the continuing troubles with the bailout talks, official numbers today show how badly some European nations are suffering.

The euro zone economy, as a whole, contracted by 0.3 per cent in the fourth quarter, and many believe the region is back in recession, the second in about three years.

Gross domestic product in the wider 27-member EU declined at the same pace, the statistics agency Eurostat said today.

There was at least one surprise, though. While Germany's economy dipped by 0.2 per cent, as expected, France actually eked out a gain of 0.2 per cent.

Home sales slip Further evidence of a cooling Canadian real estate market today.

Sales of existing homes slipped 4.5 per cent in January from December, the Canadian Real Estate Association said. It's the first decline since August 2011, the group added, and the biggest monthly drop since July 2010.

Average home prices were up by less than 2 per cent compared to a year earlier, The Globe and Mail's Steve Ladurantaye reports.

Cenovus boosts dividend Canada's Cenovus Energy Inc. closed out what it said was a strong 2011 with a 10-per-cent hike in its dividend and a surge in fourth-quarter profit.

Cenovus earned $266-million or 35 cents a share, diluted, in the quarter, compared to $78-million or 10 cents a year earlier.

Conventional oil and natural gas liquids production, before royalties, rose to almost 69,700 barrels a day. Production from Canada's oil sands climbed to more than 74,500 million.

Its reserves climbed 17 per cent to 1.9 billions of oil equivalent.

"The company continues to advance its oil projects by drilling stratigraphic test wells, moving applications through the regulatory process and constructing expansions as it works toward the goal of 500,000 barrels a day of net oil production by the end of 2021," Cenovus said.

It boosted its quarterly dividend to 22 cents, and said it expects its "continued financial strength will allow our board of directors to place a priority on continuing to grow the dividend."

Talisman loss shrinks Talisman Energy Inc. , in turn, posted a loss for the fourth quarter, though it was narrower than the shortfall of a year earlier.

Talisman lost $117-million (U.S.) or 11 cents a share in the quarter, compared to a loss of $350-million or 34 cents a year earlier.

Chief executive officer John Manzoni said last year was one of "successes as well as challenges" for Talisman.

"North American natural gas prices fell by a third, ending the year below $3, and we saw a significant tax increase in the U.K.," he said in a statement.

"In addition, our own delivery, particularly in the North Sea, fell short of expectations. There were also a large number of positives during the year. Oil prices remained high and helped drive annual cash flow up by 16 per cent. The company grew underlying production by 9 per cent with record shale volumes, two new projects in Southeast Asia and production from Colombia. We have built out our Eagle Ford organization to full capacity from a standing start and started piloting the liquids-rich Duvernay shale, which we will test through this year."

Let the chips fall Whoever thought there could be so much fuss over potato chips? Okay, Pringles are a touch above Wavy Lay's in my books, but still.

Here's what happened today: Diamond Foods Inc. was poised to buy Pringles from Procter & Gamble Co. , but the two companies called off the deal over Diamond's unrelated accounting issues. So Kellogg Co. .agreed to buy the chip business for $2.7-billion (U.S.).

Kellogg, best known for Corn Flakes, of course, is big in the snacks business, having acquired Keebler more than 10 years ago.

"Pringles has an extensive global footprint that catapults Kellogg to the number two position in the worldwide savory snacks category, helping us achieve our objective of becoming a truly global cereal and snacks company," said chief executive officer John Bryant.

Controversy over surveillance bill We should change the unofficial name of Canada's online surveillance bill from "snoop and spy" to "stoop and scoop" because it stinks.

I'm somewhat comforted that Internet and privacy guru Michael Geist believes there can be a compromise, but, as it stands, I agree with what Assistant Privacy Commissioner Chantal Bernier told The Globe and Mail's John Ibbitson: "We are Canada, and there are established privacy principles in place."

Of course I agree with the push to protect kids, but this one goes too far. The bottom line is that the courts must oversee such monitoring of Canadian citizens.

As The Globe and Mail's Omar El Akkad writes, The Protecting Children from Internet Predators Act would allow police access to names, phone numbers and IP addresses without a warrant.

With a warrant, ISPs such as Rogers Communications Inc. and the Bell Canada unit of BCE Inc. would have to turn over stored data.

Many, such as police forces, want the proposed new law, while some privacy experts, such as Ontario's Privacy Commissioner Ann Cavoukian, see Bill C-30 as "a major intrusion into our personal lives" as it now stands.

I'm with her there and hope, as Mr. Geist suggests on his blog today, that a compromise can be found.

"Mandatory disclosure isn't the only issue with the bill - the oversight of surveillance capabilities remains underdeveloped, the costs associated with surveillance equipment is a giant question mark, and the fears of surveillance misuse based on the experience in other jurisdictions continues to cause concern," Mr. Geist wrote.

"There are also issues related to the easy access some of the new production orders provide to potentially sensitive data such as GPS data or transmission data generated during our communications. None of these issues will be easy to solve, but the starting point must surely be a moratorium on the inflammatory us vs. them rhetoric from the government which fosters alienation rather than co-operation."

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