The Conservative government is promising to tackle problems with Canada's job vacancy data after the Auditor-General warned that Statscan's numbers still leave people in the dark as to which skills are needed and where.
Many experts have said this missing information is a critical gap for policy makers as they update major federal programs, including employment insurance and the controversial temporary foreign worker program.
(What is the Temporary Foreign Worker Program? Read The Globe's easy explanation)
Auditor-General Michael Ferguson's spring report, released Tuesday, praised Statistics Canada's work but points out that its job vacancy data do not go far enough. The report says that, while Statistics Canada reports job vacancies nationally and by province, it does not specify where in the province there are labour shortages. In addition, the report suggests the job classifications are too broad.
For instance, Statscan reports vacancies in "Professional, Scientific, and Technical Services," which is a category that could include jobs in advertising, legal services, architecture and biotechnology research. "Users informed us that as a result of these shortcomings, available information on job vacancies is of limited value to them," the Auditor-General's report states.
Employment Minister Jason Kenney has argued in recent months that, while there is no national skills shortage, there is a need for temporary foreign workers in specific regions and for specific jobs. The gap identified by the Auditor-General means there is no job vacancy data from Statscan to support or refute the Minister's claim.
Still, the Minister is promising reforms to the temporary foreign worker program within weeks. He told CTV's Power Play Tuesday that one option under consideration would be to increase the $275 fee currently charged to employers and use the money to pay for more enforcement.
On the issue of data, his office said told The Globe and Mail that the government is working with provinces and postsecondary institutions and Statscan to find better ways of measuring Canada's labour market.
During a day-long debate on the temporary foreign worker program Tuesday that was triggered by the opposition Liberals, Mr. Kenney promised to unveil reforms "within a matter of weeks."
Both the Liberals and the NDP accused the government of ignoring allegations of abuse related to the program, but the Minister said those stories should not be exaggerated.
"The number of cases of abuse, while they are serious and have clearly driven us to a vigorous response, should not be exaggerated because the number of cases of abuse that I am aware of probably constitute less than one per cent of all cases," he said.
The Auditor-General's report comes as the government is on the defensive over its use of non-Statscan data to assess Canada's labour market. A Finance Canada report released with the Feb. 11 budget produced job vacancy statistics based on data from Wanted Analytics, a company that runs software to track all online job boards. The report raised eyebrows with its claim of a national job vacancy rate of 4 per cent at a time when Statscan had been reporting a job vacancy rate of 1.3 per cent.
The Parliamentary Budget Officer said Finance's numbers were thrown off because Wanted Analytics uses the classified site Kijiji as a source, leading to a perceived growth in job postings that was largely a result of the same jobs being posted in various sections of the website.
The Globe reported that a recent labour market review by Employment and Social Development Canada used Wanted Analytics data but removed Kijiji and similar sites as a source. As a result , the ESDC list reported 276,525 total job vacancies, which works out to a vacancy rate of 1.5 per cent and brings the Wanted Analytics data in line with Statistics Canada's figures.