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Employment Minister Jason Kenney has acknowledged the weaknesses in Canada’s labour data and has been promising improvementsSean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

The Conservative government will spend $14-million a year on two new Statistics Canada surveys to produce the detailed regional jobs data that critics say is sorely missing.

The approach will dramatically increase the number of employers who are surveyed by phone about their hiring needs in an effort to give Canadians a much clearer picture of which jobs are going wanting and where they are.

The information will be particularly valuable to the continuing debate over the temporary foreign worker program, as employers argue the program is needed to fill specific regional shortages while numerous policy experts counter that there is no official data to support their claims. Employment Minister Jason Kenney has acknowledged the weaknesses in Canada's labour data and has been promising improvements.

The announcement of new spending plans came as the NDP and Liberals grilled the government over cuts to labour market information. The Globe reported Wednesday on an internal memo showing Mr. Kenney's department cut total spending on "Learning and Labour Market Information" by more than 20 per cent over the past two years. Mr. Kenney, who announced the survey plans Wednesday afternoon but did not provide details, said his department has been phasing out low-priority work to fund more relevant research.

"The government will be launching two significant, robust, new labour market information studies," Mr. Kenney told the House of Commons Wednesday. "Of them, one will be a quarterly study on job vacancies and the other a robust annual survey on wage rates, just as experts have asked us to do."

Sources say the new $14-million would largely reverse the 20 per cent cut by 2015-16, returning the department's annual spending on labour market information to more than $80-million.

A new job-vacancy survey will cost $8-million a year and will survey 100,000 employers, up from the current 15,000 employers who are currently contacted through the monthly survey of employment, payrolls and hours, which only produces job vacancy data at the provincial level.

Secondly, a new wage survey will cost $6-million and will also contact 100,000 employers, allowing for more detailed results. Current wage data is based on surveying 56,000 households through Statistics Canada's labour force survey.

The government move to increase funding for traditional Statistics Canada phone surveys of employers follows months of criticism over its increasing use of unconventional software tools that scan online job boards to create a database of available jobs. The Parliamentary Budget Officer has warned that the government's approach in this area is producing erroneous job vacancy statistics because some job boards, such as Kijiji, allow the same job to be posted in different sections of the site, leading to double counting of the same jobs.

The government's latest move is in line with recommendations made in a paper Wednesday by economist Don Drummond, who chaired a 2009 federal-provincial panel on labour data, and repeated a call for Ottawa to enhance Statistics Canada's mandate to collect more and better data.

NDP MP Nathan Cullen said the government has been caught making policy decisions without evidence.

"They do make themselves ignorant purposefully," he said.

Liberal MP John McCallum said the government is reversing course in the face of controversy.

"They tried to avoid Statistics Canada and they went the Kijiji route, which then exploded in their face," he said. "So now, a bit shamefacedly perhaps, they have to go back to Statistics Canada and undo those cuts."

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