Pay Grade

Grading Canada’s Economic Recovery: The big picture,
Centre for Policy Alternatives, 2013

As teachers we are always interested in report cards :)

As literacy workers who are being held accountable for employment outcomes, this F for Precarious Employment especially worrying.
“Good jobs” are generally permanent, long-term positions; while temporary and short-term employment is generally considered to be precarious. This type of employment includes short-term contracts, ‘temp work’ and freelancing.

As of 2011, the most recent data available, 13.7% of Canadian workers occupied positions that were not permanent. Canada ranks 17th of the OECD of 28 countries with comparable data in terms of the current proportion of the workforce that involuntarily work a part-time position. ...

Since pre-recession levels, the proportion of Canadian workers in temporary positions increased by 0.7 percentage points of total employment – a proportional increase of 5.3%. While this figure may sound small, it means there are about 105,000 more workers in temporary positions today than before the recession.

Around here, adult education policy makers start with the assumption that the people who come to literacy programs are unemployed and underemployed and that a gain in literacy skills can change that for program participants - if not for the people that work there*.
Those that see adult learning as part of a response to the danger of further polarization in society argue that lifelong learning gives citizens the chance to acquire adequate skills to prevent low-paid jobs from becoming life cycle traps. “A Pareto optimal welfare state [through reallocation, improvements can be made to at least one participant's well-being without reducing any other participant's well-being] of the future might very well be one that shifts the accent of social citizenship from its present preoccupation with income maintenance towards a menu of rights to lifelong learning and qualification” (Epsing-Andersen, 1996, p. 260).

From this perspective it is worth noting that recent research suggests that a more equitable investment in skills enhances overall labour force productivity (Coulombe, Tremblay, & Marchand, 2004; Statistics Canada, 2004). Consequently, addressing unequal opportunities to adult learning is as much an economic as a social issue.

Literacy workers do their best to provide "menu of rights to lifelong learning and qualification" but have known for a long time that
Teaching people to read and write won’t create jobs that don’t exist, make it easier to get by on the minimum wage, or get rid of discrimination. (National Anti-Poverty Organization: Illiteracy and Poverty, 1992)
quoted in Literacy, Welfare and Work Longitudinal Research Project, Janet Smith, 1999

Literacy workers and learners are doing their part. This report card shows that policy makers need to do theirs if literacy programs are to "prevent low-paid jobs from becoming life cycle traps."

*Literacy workers are often "laid off" for several weeks every year and can easily be permanently laid off when funding cuts occur or class sizes diminish.

Home(r) Truths

Storytelling is important, whether it's a ruddy and robust town crier or Homer (I mean the Greek one but the other one counts too). The manner in which we receive information can affect us as much as the information itself.

The medium is the message. 

Hope from across the aisle

"Ontario P[rogressive] C[onservative] education critic Rob Leone is introducing a bill that would give employers a tax credit for helping workers go back to school and earn their high school diploma." 
Kristin Rushowy, Toronto Star

In light of the recent kerfuffle over the Job Grant Program and the history-making year we are having, this iteration of the Conservative penchant for tax cuts seems like an idea worth exploring.

"“The idea behind the bill is to encourage this idea of lifelong learning because it has positive implications not just for the economy … but also for families and children.”

Making History

For the first time in Canadian history, more than half of the federal government’s revenue in 2014 will come from personal income taxes -- a vivid sign that Canada’s tax burden is slowly shifting away from corporations and onto consumers. 
Daniel Tencer, The Huffington Post Canada 

And that is not because people are getting richer than corporations (see previous).

This article quotes an analysis of the federal budget by Toby Sanger.
The Harper government has already cut overall federal taxes and other revenues to the lowest rate they’ve been in over 70 years. Total federal revenues as a share of the economy declined to 14% in 2012/13, with tax revenues down to 11.5%. The federal government’s revenues and taxes haven’t been this low as a share of the economy since 1940.

That’s before Canada had national public health insurance, the Canada Pension Plan or unemployment insurance. ...

While the federal government’s tax revenues have declined as a share of the economy, many Canadians might not feel any better off, or more lightly taxed. That’s because there’s been a major shift in where the federal government gets its money. ...
The federal government’s revenues have increasingly shifted towards personal income tax (PIT). For the first time ever, personal income taxes are projected to provide more than 50% of Ottawa’s revenues next year in 2014/15, and keep rising. That’s up from a 30% share fifty years ago and even lower shares before then.
What’s come down is the share of the federal government’s revenues paid by corporations as well as other taxes and duties. These include estate taxes, excise taxes and custom duties. Despite record profits, corporations provide just 13.6% of the federal government’s revenues in corporate income taxes. That’s a third less than the over 20% share they provided during the “Golden Age of Capitalism” from 1946 to 1970.
Toby Sanger, The Progressive Economics Forum

This makes think about this 2006 article about spending cuts by Ellen Russel where she explains why the Harper government was making spending cuts in a time of a huge surplus.
The federal government may look rich today. But that $13.2 billion surplus announced recently relates to the last fiscal year — 2005/06. It was generated mostly when the Liberals were in government. Since Prime Minister Stephen Harper took power, he has been rapidly emptying the treasury.

How is Harper burning through a mountain of surplus cash? Tax cuts. ...

These tax cuts will deplete surpluses for years to come. ...

Paying for Harper's agenda will virtually empty the treasury this year — and for some years to come.
Why the Conservatives are cutting spending now,
Ellen Russel, Centre for Policy Alternatives

Toby's analyis might clear up some of the myths about income inequality and the mystery of the missing $10 billion.

Granfalloon notice: Toby Sanger and I went to the same high school at the same time.

Money Woes

Most Canadians have been completely sidestepped by the benefits of economic progress for a generation – precisely because of the erosion of the institutions designed to share the wealth (like income security, collective bargaining, and progressive taxation). Real incomes for the richest 1% doubled in the same period, and real incomes for the super-rich (the top 0.01%) tripled. So by the definition of relative poverty (being worse off than those around you … and, in this case, much worse off than those you read about and see on TV), poverty has indeed increased in Canada.
Jim Stanford in Income inequality in Canada: What’s the problem?
by Konrad Yakabuski, The Globe and Mail

I always choose the Jim Stanford quote because Jim Stanford is the gold standard for economists as far as I am concerned. 

This quote comes from a conversation published in the Globe and Mail about income inequality. The article is part of a series called The Wealth Paradox
Canada is at a crossroads. A gap has grown between the middle class and the wealthy. Now, that divide is threatening to erode a cherished Canadian value: equality of opportunity for all. This article is part of The Globe's Wealth Paradox series, a two-week examination into how the wealth divide is shaping Canada's cities, schools, social programs – and even its national sport.

And here is what Jim has to say about that cherished value of equal opportunity:
Lucky individuals do not take a place among that small, well-off group because they somehow deserve it. And there will be many millions of tech-savvy workers who are as poor and insecure as any of the rest of us – by virtue of their skills being subject to automation or offshoring. I do suspect that absent deliberate efforts to support mass prosperity, a situation much like what Cowen envisions will emerge. But the causation at work is not merit, it’s power. The top 1-2 percent will do extremely well thanks to their financial wealth and control over businesses. Another 10-15 percent will do fairly well thanks to (at least temporarily) unique skills or characteristics, proximity to those with wealth, or other fortunate factors. The rest of society will scrape by, and what we know as the middle class will largely disappear. There’s nothing inevitable or “economic” about this trend. It all reflects deliberate policy and political choices that have been made: about how we collectively choose to regulate our business , trade, and employment relations. Different choices* in each of these domains can also be made.
As this internet-famous quote from United States Senator Elizabeth Warren so eloquently posits:

And back to Jim to hear what he says about those *choices:
First off, government doesn’t have to spend a cent to start to address inequality. I would implement wage-boosting measures like the minimum wage, collective bargaining, sectoral wage standards to address the effects of precarious work. Pushing employers to stop devaluing work will do more for inequality in the long run, than trying to offset the social consequences of low wages through public subsidies. Then, with the surtax , I would target two measures: expanding the child tax benefit, and revitalizing supports for affordable housing.

Income inequality is receiving  some attention  here in Toronto because of a by-election in the riding of Toronto Centre. The Liberal candidate, Chrystia Freeland, and the New Democrat candidate, Linda McQuaig, have both written books about income equality: Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super-Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else and Billionaires' Ball: Gluttony and Hubris in an Age of Epic Inequality respectively. You can see all the candidates for this riding talk about the economy and other topics on this episode of The Agenda. The debate turns to income inequality at 20:30 and the conversation lasts about 19 minutes.

And because we are educators around here, I'll end this post with Jim Stanford on education:
I am a huge believer in public education, and we should collectively spend more on it. But don’t hold your breath hoping that education will moderate the rise in inequality. A greater share of Canadians already have higher education than in any other nation. That didn’t stop the income gap from growing. And a large share of new jobs in the future will not realistically require higher education at all. Among the career categories expecting the biggest increments in new positions are truck drivers, health care aides, and retail workers and managers. So unless we start paying truck drivers, health care aides, and retail workers better, the current trajectory will not change, no matter how well educated Canadians become.
So our challenge as educators is how, in a time when funders and policy makers are insisting on assessing success based on employment outcomes over academic attainment, do we sustain learner-centred, worker-positive programming? And how do we talk to our colleagues and students about our expectations for what we can accomplish together?


Here is what Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne said yesterday about education:
 “We need to find space to focus on higher-order skills like creativity, collaboration, community and critical thinking,” she said. “Quite frankly, I know that many of you have been pushing for this for some time and fostering this learning in your own schools and boards."

Are you listening over there at the Ontario Adult Literacy Curriculum Framework?

Money Wows

Canada’s budget watchdog is asking MPs to get to the bottom of why the Harper government is spending billions less than it budgets for, or Parliament authorizes.

The federal government held on to more than $10 billion it was expected to spend in 2012-13, with almost half coming from two departments, according to recently-published financial documents.

These were funds Parliament approved and Canadians were told they could expect through a slew of programs in dozens of departments, including the Senate Ethics Officer, disability and death compensation at Veterans Affairs, and weather and environmental services for Canadians at Environment Canada.

The total amount lapsed is almost $560 million more than Ottawa left on the table the year before, although it is down from a recent peak of $11.2 billion in 2010-11, according to annual Public Accounts of Canada financial statements.

When departments don’t spend all their money, Ottawa lets them keep some, allowing them another shot at funding the programs they were expected to.

The rest is dumped into the government’s general bank account, where it can contribute to paying down the deficit. 

This story has been on a slow roll since Monday. It is, of course, taking a backseat to the scandals in the Senate, the Prime Minister's Office and at Toronto City Hall.

I am very interested in this story because since the Conservatives took power I have had questions about what seems to me a huge discrepancy between announcements on literacy spending and what actually seems to be spent. I have asked many people in the field how we can find out what is actually being spent and no-one seems to know. We have all heard about the long delays between the Request for Proposal deadlines and any notice that a project might be funded - on one project I worked on, the gap between the RFP deadline and the roll out of funds was over two years.

In the old days of the National Literacy Secretariat, there was a list of funded projects online so that the field could see what projects had been approved and received funding in any given year. This transparency was helpful to those doing research in the field who wanted to find relevant research for literature reviews, to check for overlap when crafting their own proposals and for making connections and developing partnerships when working on projects. It also let us, and everyone else, know how the announced funding was being spent.

That list disappeared for a while. It seems to have resurfaced as a searchable database but information about projects prior to 2006 have been deleted.
Welcome to the OLES Project Database. This application has been developed to provide Canadians with a transparent and comprehensive reporting tool on literacy and essential skills grants and contributions projects funded since the program's creation in April 2006. The Database will be updated regularly.
A search for projects starting April 1, 2012 and ending March 31, 2013 shows No results found.

Searching for other fiscal year dates shows funding for National Adult Literacy Database (now Copian) and the Ontario Literacy Coalition (now Essential Skills Ontario). Searching by fiscal year dates does not capture projects with multi-year funding. For those you have to know the dates or at least one word in the title. I found the Learning and Violence project by searching "violence". And searching the word "literacy" returns nine pages of results but you have to click on each title to see in which year the project was funded.

This way of displaying funded projects is much less transparent than the NLS lists that corresponded to each year's RFP. It is not as helpful to a field trying to make decisions about research and trying connect research to an existing body of knowledge and it is not helpful to anyone trying to find out where the money went. I don't suppose this report from the Parliamentary Budget Office will help us plan and access research but I hope it will shine a little light on the mysterious spending practices of this government. I would think that the government would want that too; nothing like an information vacuum to start up rumours and conspiracy theories and I don't think they need any more of those at this time :)

Looking Upstream

"Our ability to realize what government is truly for, to improve the lives of people, is hampered by the terms of discussion. Whatever brilliant ideas may come forward to improve lives and health, whatever arguments may be brought forward, they are quickly dismissed if they counter the current frame."

Dr. Ryan Meili, Upstream thinking, healthy society and reviving Canadian democracy, Centre for Policy Alternatives

Sound familiar?

If this frustration is one of your frustrations, perhaps Upstream will be of interest to you.

"Upstream seeks to propagate a new frame, one that focuses in on the decisions that will make the most impact on the quality of our lives. By gathering the best evidence available, academics and advocates will promote decisions made on the basis of practicality rather than ideology. Using storytelling through multiple forms of media, Upstream will help to bridge the gap between knowledge and practice. By connecting individuals and partner organization through common language and goals, Upstream will help to create public demand for policies and actions consistent with the new frame, and ultimately mobilize citizens and our government to build a truly healthy society."


At a dinner to celebrate Tannis' graduation, her partner Susan Beaver told us a bit about the process of question-creating involved in the research and writing that Tannis has been doing for the past five years. She spoke of how the questions evolved but also how that evolution was not just an academic process but a spiritual and emotional one as well. I am not doing her eye-opening and compassionate insights much justice here but I wanted to give you a little context.

The day after the dinner, a Facebook friend linked to a comic called A Day At The Park about the relationship between questions and answers. I think I would have always found it interesting and fantasticbut it seemed especially relevant in light of Susan's words and the content of Tannis' doctorate that questions the questions so effectively.

Read A Day At The Park to find out why...

Tannis is our doctor now!

Here is good news for Literacy Enquirers! Our dear friend and esteemed colleague Tannis Atkinson has received her doctorate from OISE. Congratulations Tannis and congratulations to us for having this excellent ally in the academy.

Here is an excerpt from a blog post by Tannis that will show those of you unfamiliar with her work why it is so important to literacy learners and workers. Read more of Tannis' writing here:

My dissertation examined how IALS (the International Adult Literacy Survey) -informed policies are changing what it is possible for educators to do when they meet adults who want to improve their reading and writing.  I’ve become convinced that it is vital to consider the historical and political contexts in which statistical accounts of literacy have come to dominance.

What happens when we turn our attention away from the calculations and statistics, and focus instead on the moments in which the numbers were developed?   We notice that calculative practices have been introduced as mechanisms for governing a host of other social realms, as discussed by post-realist scholars such as Higgins and Larner (2010).  We observe that the psychometric framing at the heart of IALS, despite its claim to be reliable “across cultures and languages”, carries forward a troubling history of efforts to rank people and justify inequalities at the heart of liberal democracies (Baum 2012, Fendler & Muzaffar 2008).  And we remember that the IALS statistics were developed to address concerns about shifts in the global economy. The explicit aim of these surveys was not to measure the relative access to information in print-saturated societies. Rather its goal was to inform a range of policies which would bolster the competitive advantage of OECD member nations. The relative wealth and political dominance of these same geopolitical regions, we would do well do remember, was itself historically produced in and through colonial relations.  That position was not substantially altered when colonialism formally ended (Duara 2004).

Perhaps it is possible for me to make these larger connections because I live in Canada. This settler-colonial state is in the midst of a process of truth and reconciliation about the devastating effects of residential schools designed to force indigenous children to adopt European culture and values. These schools were part of a broader strategy to construct Canada as a nation by dispossessing indigenous peoples of their land. Although there have been formal apologies for this history, the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission faces daily battles over access to records, information and resources. The legacies of residential schools, and the ongoing colonial relations in Canada, get erased each time someone repeats the decontextualized ‘fact’ that literacy levels are “consistently lower” for indigenous people compared to non-indigenous people (Human Resources and Skills Development Canada). Such larger questions are not the focus of my research, but do provide essential context for my investigation. They remind me that it is imperative to continue to question what we take for granted about literacy. One powerful way to do so is to investigate the historical, political and economic contexts in which ideas—including the idea that literacy can and should be counted—have developed.

Canada Job Grant Monitor

It has been a while since we have posted anything over here. If you blog, I don't have to explain. It happens to all of us.

As this blog was following the Job Grant Program, I thought you might like to know that there is a Facebook page called Canada Job Grant Monitor. It was started at the end of October 2013 and is posting stories about the somewhat rocky road to implementation.

As the introductory post on the Canada Job Grant Monitor states, "Changes to the Labour Market Agreement impact many individuals employers, potential employees, labour/advocacy groups, service groups and employability and training providers. The Canada Job Grant Monitor looks to capture community perspectives on the impact to their programs to help influence LMA negotiations."

Jason Kenney (Canada's Minister of Employment and Social Development and Minister for Multiculturalism) is facing blowback from provincial governments reluctant to give up the Labour Market Agreement dollars in favour of this privatised program, from labour organizations similarly reluctant about this funding shift and from some small business owners who are reluctant to pony up their share of dollars in required to benefit from the program.

Read about all this and more at the Canada Job Grant Monitor page.

Literacy as Numbers

On June 17th the International symposium on Literacy as Numbers was held in London, England to address the fact that
"Large-scale enumerative projects of literacy assessment are increasingly global in scope and impacting on educational policy and practice."
Here is a video of Mary Hamilton introducing the symposium.

Canada was represented by Tannis Atkinson, Richard Darville, Christine Pinsent-Johnson and Audrey Gardner.

Here is something from Richard's abstract that you might relate to:
Literacy workers experience reporting requirements aligned with enumerative discourses as ruptured from how they otherwise know the diverse, shape-shifting actualities of literacy learning. Experiences of rupture generate reform proposals for program-level accountability that better represents actual learner gains – especially in confidence and social connectedness. However, within an obdurate regime, critiques of enumeration don't stick, and accountability reform proposals aren't taken up. Reporting arrangements are held in place by their attachments into human resource quantifications and jurisdictional rate competitions, and by their parallel alignment with "management by outcomes."
Here is something from Chritine's abstract that people working in literacy in Ontario will recognize:
For nearly two decades federal policymakers in Canada have overseen a project that involves curricularizing the International Adult Literacy Survey (IALS), creating a virtual literacy for policy interests, and not teaching and learning. In addition, recent reformulations of the IALS testing initiative are being used to classify learners and redirect literacy policy development in order to focus educational efforts on certain groups of adults over others. Based on these reformulations, work is currently underway to develop and widely market to policymakers a comprehensive IALS derived literacy learning system that includes instruction, assessment and program accountability elements.

Leading the IALS curricular and policy projects are consultants who were directly involved in developing and implementing the IALS. They and others have honed their expertise developing various IALS derived curricular products over the years, such as assessments and a ‘basic skills' curriculum framework, the Essential Skills.
 And something from Tannis' abstract that literacy students might relate to:
This paper uses governmentality analytics to examine the statistical indicators of adult literacy developed by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and first employed in the 1994 International Adult Literacy Survey. ...Drawing on empirical data from one jurisdiction in an OECD member nation, I outline how adult literacy policies based on these calculations coerce and punish those who are poor or unemployed. I argue that, by disciplining those who are not ‘productive'—even those who are not working because of injury, discrimination or broad economic conditions—these policies construct lack of ‘literacy' as a threat to the population as a whole. Further, the authoritarian mechanisms employed in these policies oblige (Scott, 2005, p. 25) everyone to comply with the narrow OECD definition of what constitutes an acceptably active and productive citizen.
Here are some of the presenters talking about how numbers represent, or not, literacy. You will see Tannis Atkinson at 4:44.


"Understanding how each individual learns is a large facet of the research. Since different approaches work for different students, reading literacy should be taught with an extremely dynamic approach, custom-catered to each type of student."

This is from an article by Trish Underwood called Recent Trends in Literacy and Reading Instruction about some research into teaching reading.

I just thought I'd post it here in case this was news to you :)

Math Lesson

Here is a little math lesson about skills and immigration. And perhaps why immigration will work better for us all than "temporary" foreign worker programs.

Policy Wonk

Brigid Hayes has posted part of a keynote speech she gave at the Saskatchewan Literacy Network's Knowledge Exchange session last November on the Saskatchewan Action Research Network blog.

If you don't know Brigid, she has over 30 years of experience working in the Canadian literacy scene. In 1989, she "joined the NLS [National Literacy Secretariat] to build literacy partnerships with business and labour organizations. Our marching orders were to engage every aspect of society in whatever ways would prove useful."

In this article, Brigid looks back on how literacy came to be part of the policy picture, discusses how accountability requirements started to shape literacy policy, and makes recommendations for the future.
We’ve won the argument that literacy matters to labour force participation. Now perhaps it is time to look out at the “margins” again and present a vision of literacy that embraces a more holistic view. One that views literacy as integral to civic engagement, equity, participation in all aspects of life. Literacy as a human right, not a privilege.
Perhaps it is time to become activists again while leaving the well-developed institutional approaches to continue. To till new fields, plant new seeds, and grow a vision that acknowledges and complements what has been created. To go beyond labour market outcomes. Canada once embraced literacy as a multi-faceted concept to ensure full participation in our society, but literacy’s focus has since been narrowed, rules have multiplied, and the locus of power has shifted.
We can’t go back, but we can take what we’ve learned over the past two decades and craft a vision rooted in today’s realities—realities that speak to the needs of all adult learners. A vision that squarely places literacy within the wider values and norms that define us as a nation.
Well said Brigid.

Raising awareness about sexual violence

York University students are using their literacy skills in creative ways to raise awareness about sexual violence.

"A group of York University students is using comics to tackle an issue that doesn’t usually get the funny pages treatment: sexual violence.

As part of Design for Public Awareness, a class taught by Prof. Jan Hadlaw, the students created 12 graphic art projects that address issues surrounding sexual assault.

Hadlaw said she wasn’t sure at first about using comics to tackle such a weighty subject.

'I had to think about it for a minute — it’s a challenging topic on many levels — but it was clearly an inspired idea,' she said.

The course material was presented in conjunction with Noa Ashkenazi, the university’s sexual harassment prevention and education adviser.

Sexual assault has been a hot topic at York. Taking action to prevent attacks must go beyond getting security or law enforcement involved, Ashkenazi said.

'We cannot expect police to change the social norms. We need to change the social norms,' she said."

Shared benefit

Yesterday the Toronto Star's Joe Fiorito wrote about the cost of poverty from the perspective of money manager Marc Hamel speaking "at a recent conference in Halton region, where changes to provincial welfare rates were up for discussion." Here are some of the quotes from Marc Hamel:
“If we could help this 20 per cent with skill training and higher education, the income gain for Ontario would be $3.2 billion a year.”

He puts the total cost of child poverty in Ontario at anywhere between $4.6 billion and $5.9 billion a year. And then he talked about lost opportunity.

“If we were able to increase the income and participation of the lowest quintile of income earners, and raise their incomes to the second quintile, the benefit to the Ontario economy would be over $16 billion a year.”

He also noted that, if we did so, there would be an increase in tax revenues of $4 billion.

But here’s the real money quote: “In total, poverty costs the residents of Ontario a staggering $32 billion to $38 billion a year — the equivalent of over 5 per cent of provincial GDP.”
I do believe that Marc Hamel's heart is in the right place and that he believes that these economic arguments will foster positive action towards poverty reduction and increasing income equality.

We in the literacy field know better. We have our literacy equals GDP champions in Craig Alexander and Frank McKenna at the TD Financial Group and Scott Murray et al at the Canadian Council on Learning and have been listening to the higher literacy rates equal higher GDP arguments for over a decade now. During that time have seen cuts to literacy programming and the reduction of diversity and accessibility in publicly funded adult learning. We have also seen the  National Literacy Secretariat and it's library of research replaced by the Office of Literacy and Essential Skills and a library of skills definitions, tools and assessments.

The problem with these shared benefit arguments for poverty reduction is that if I have a personal interest in someone else's income equality, I soon start to demand proof - for every investment in "skill training and higher education" I want to see a return. I start demanding standardization so I can understand and report outcomes - not just learning outcomes but economic ones - and in so doing I start to replace the notion of common good with that of total good.
Chris Priestley
The Independent
April 28, 1997

As John Milbank, in his article Thatcher's perverse victory and the prospect of an ethical economy, says:
A capitalist economy, as Stefano Zamagni explains, does not pursue the common good, but "the total good" - that is, the sum total of individual utilitarian happiness in the aggregate, people counted one by one, not in their real relationships. But an abstract sum means a sum of numbers, the total wealth of a community, which may accrue to some more than to others. Hence the British GDP is evidently not the common good of the British people.
David Cameron, the current Conservative Prime Minister of England agrees.
In David Cameron's early days as Conservative leader, when the GDP numbers still pointed to an impressive track record for Labour, he told a conference: "It's time we admitted that there's more to life than money, and it's time we focused not just on GDP, but on 'GWB' – general well-being." 
Bhutan has been considering Gross National Happiness a valid indicator of progress since 1972 and did their first survey in 2010.
The concept of GNH has often been explained by its four pillars: good governance, sustainable socio-economic development, cultural preservation, and environmental conservation. Lately the four pillars have been further classified into nine domains in order to create widespread understanding of GNH and to reflect the holistic range of GNH values. The nine domains are: psychological wellbeing, health, education, time use, cultural diversity and resilience, good governance, community vitality, ecological diversity and resilience, and living standards. The domains represents each of the components of wellbeing of the Bhutanese people, and the term ‘wellbeing’ here refers to fulfilling conditions of a ‘good life’ as per the values and principles laid down by the concept of Gross National Happiness.
Income equality and other sorts of equality are probably not going to be found in neo-liberal shared benefit solutions but in redefining shared benefit in terms of common good rather than that of total good. I think that state redistribution mechanisms are necessary to ensure universality, accessibility and oversight and a legally-binding, mutual accountability contract for social benefit is long overdue.
And rather than relying primarily on state redistribution, we need to forge an economy that operates justly and fairly in the first place - both through the internal ethos of firms and professional associations, and through a new legal framework which demands that every business deliver social benefit as well as reasonable profit.

Banking skills

A discussion about the Temporary Foreign Worker program blew up my Twitter feed over the weekend. It has been discussed on this blog here and here.

As you probably already know, on Friday the CBC reported that the Royal Bank of Canada is replacing 45 workers with workers from "a multinational outsourcing firm from India – iGATE Corp. – which has a contract with the bank to provide IT services."

People across the political spectrum reacted with outrage and disgust.

Royal Bank of Canada CEO, Gordon Nixon, explained to RBC staff that hiring a company to replace them with lower-paid workers is different than doing it himself and Zabeen Hirji, Chief Human Resources Officer for RBC, tried to do the same for a wider audience.

Human Resources Minister Diane Finley expressed her dismay and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney suggested that any company that was "playing some kind of a shell game, that is not consistent with the rules... should have the book thrown at them” (see CBC story above).

But Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour obtained a government list of more than 4,000 companies given approval to hire temporary foreign workers last year, many in the service industry.
 "You look down this list and what you see is McDonald's, Tim Hortons, and Subway. This list goes on. It stretches the bounds of credibility that all of these employers have been using temporary foreign workers to hire skilled workers."

Armine Yalnizyan from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives tweeted this StatsCan chart about the growth in the use of temporary foreign workers in Canada since 2006:

and participated in a conversation about the Temporary Foreign Worker program with Ron Babin on CBC's The Current.

 Erin Weir in the Globe and Mail reports that:
Since 2008, the number of temporary foreign workers has increased by 24,000 or 60 per cent in Toronto, 18,000 or 70 per cent in Quebec, and 5,000 or 80 per cent in the Atlantic provinces. Together, these regions of high unemployment account for most of the post-recession increase in Canada’s temporary foreign work force. With the exception of Toronto as well as Newfoundland and Labrador, wages in these regions are below the national average.
So what does this story and the growth of this program mean for us in the literacy field?

Maybe this:
The biggest side effect of the rapid growth of the program might be eroded skills and training, said David Green, an economics professor at the University of British Columbia, who believes the program may act as a disincentive for companies to offer on-the-job training, and for workers to ensure their skills are current.

“The most concerning thing has to be the implications for training,” he said. “The long-run implications are bad because we’re going to have a generation of young people who are looking at something that makes it harder for them to get the skills they need to get.”
Foreign workers program seen growing too big, too fast by Tavia Grant
The Globe and Mail, Published Monday, Apr. 08 2013, 7:00 PM EDT
"Canadian workers are being displaced, training is being ignored and the TFW program is becoming the first choice rather than a tool of last resort," said the Alberta Federation of Labour’s [Gil] McGowan.

Of course it also has implications about what kind of working conditions we might be training people for. 
The government’s policy of allowing employers to pay temporary foreign workers up to 15 per cent less than the prevailing wage obviously undercuts prevailing wages. Because temporary foreign workers are beholden to their employers, they have little ability to assert their workplace rights or negotiate wage improvements.

An econometric study based on data through 2007 published last year in Canadian Public Policy concludes, “The expansion [of the Temporary Foreign Worker program] in Canada to all low-skill occupations without limit has had an adverse effect on the Canadian labour market.” There is reason to fear that adding more vulnerable workers to weak labour markets since 2008 has further worsened unemployment and undermined wages.
It's not just RBC. The foreign-worker program needs reining in by Erin Weir
The Globe and Mail, Published Tuesday, Apr. 09 2013

I find it encouraging that people are outraged about this and everyone is talking about the implications of paying certain classes of workers less than others and how outsourcing, offshoring and rural sourcing, nearsourcing etc., impact employment rates, the employability of certain workers and the working conditions for all groups of workers. Perhaps this is one of those watershed moments that wakes people up to a practice that has been hurting us all for a long time. It seems to make many people open to talking about worker protections in a way that has been rare in some circles lately. So maybe a little crack has opened up. 

As Erin Weir writes
RBC provides a particularly compelling example of why the Temporary Foreign Worker Program must be reined in. It should be limited to areas with demonstrable skill shortages.

Before importing temporary labour, employers should have to meet a much higher burden of proof that they cannot find Canadian workers. Those temporary foreign workers who are admitted should have a clear path to permanent residency and citizenship, so that they can fully contribute to our economy and exercise the same workplace rights as other Canadians.
Here is hoping...

Horse's Mouth

Well you don't have to take my word for it - as if you would :) Or Juliet Merrifield's.

Here is Rona Ambrose, Federal Minister of Public Works and Status for Women, talking about how the Canada Job Grant program will serve the needs of employers.

“It will transform the way we do skill training. The problem here was the taxpayer has been funding $500 million for every province, to the tune of almost $3 billion in skills training that’s delivered through the government. What employers have told us is that skills training that people are taking through the government are not to fill the jobs that they need."

“What we’ve done is something really bold, that the Chambers of Commerce have asked us to do, and employers have asked us to do. We’re going to offer the grant directly to the employer. The Government of Canada will pay $5,000 in job training grants if it’s matched by the employer. The province can then match another $5,000, for a total of $15,000. The province doesn’t have to participate but if they want, they can use their existing Skills Training Fund that they have."

“We’re going to work with them over the next year to see if we can align these programs but that job grant will still be available from the Federal Government and the employer. It just won’t be the maximum $15,000; it’ll be $10,000.”

We decided to take this out of the hand of government, out of the hands of bureaucrats, and give that money directly to employers so they can dictate the training they need.”

thanks to @Brigid_Hayes

You might assume that I would be okay with taking education out of the hands of bureaucrats but how about putting at least some of in the hands of educators and learners.

I wonder how unemployed workers will access this program, especially those who are currently in literacy programs. (In Ontario, literacy programs get 22% of their funding from the Labour Market Agreement funds that are being allocated to the Canada Jobs Grant program.) Will employers be encouraged to make these programs accessible to people who need to upgrade reading and writing skills as well as job skills? How will the government ensure that access to this program is equitable? For example, how will Ms. Ambrose in her role as Minister for the Status of Women, ensure that women have equal opportunity in this program? Quotas? Daycare? A Women in Non-traditional Trades program?

Hmmm. Maybe we need the bureaucrats after all.

In this Centre for Policy Alternatives Fact Sheet, Fast Facts: Literacy, Women and Poverty, Margerit Roger writes about how "many of the women living with lower levels of literacy and low incomes are also single parents" and "Not part of the workplace perspective or economic agenda, low-income women are at risk of being forgotten in literacy programming."
"It is important to distinguish labour's conception of literacy from corporate conceptions of literacy for workers. As far as corporations are concerned, worker literacy is defined in the context of corporate goals regarding productivity and profits. Where the production process, and more recently, the participatory management process, requires workers to use literacy skills to follow instructions, say, or fill out reports, then corporations may be interested in worker literacy.... This corporate conception of literacy is a narrow one. It is based on a limited understanding of the worker and of the worker's need for literacy in terms of his/her role as a cog in a workplace."
 Seeds for Change, Jean Conon-Unda

"Important as work-skill acquisition is, we do our society a huge disservice if we do not value personal, family and community health as much as increased employability or income. Unfortunately, literacy programs aimed at producing productive employees are exponentially more common than programs designed for people who are farther removed from the economy and labour market. Since 2006, the national literacy agenda has shifted so significantly towards work-focused programming that literacy for family, social or political participation has all but disappeared from our educational discourse. We have become so accustomed to measuring success in economic and statistical terms that we are seriously at risk of forgetting that literacy is also about individuals being able to “read their world”, inform themselves about choices, engage in community projects, or just help their children with homework."

The Centre for Policy Alternatives blog post,  New Shoes and a Haircut: Budget 2013 not so pretty for women in Canada, points to the ways the 2013 Federal Budget leaves women out of the Jobs! Jobs! Jobs! agenda. Are women being remembered in the Jobs Grant program? What about other groups of workers that face discrimination in the workplace?

And I guess we can give up any hope that the federal government is going to fix the problems the Temporary Foreign Workers program is causing for permanent, domestic workers - here is Ms. Ambrose again:

“There’s a new program through Immigration Canada that going to allow for employers, provinces and territories, to pick from a pool of (immigrant) skilled workers,” the people they need to match job requirements.

“That gives them much more control over the kinds of immigrants that they need to fill their labour market need. We’ve been working on this for some time and there is still work to be done but I think this is something that will be really welcomed by *Alberta businesses.”

*She was speaking in Alberta.

I told you so.

Okay this is weird.

A link to another endorsement of applying the theories of Karl Marx, Marx’s Revenge: How Class Struggle Is Shaping the World, just showed up on a social media site I frequent  -- but this time from Time Magazine's Business Section!

 "With the global economy in a protracted crisis, and workers around the world burdened by joblessness, debt and stagnant incomes, Marx’s biting critique of capitalism — that the system is inherently unjust and self-destructive — cannot be so easily dismissed. Marx theorized that the capitalist system would inevitably impoverish the masses as the world’s wealth became concentrated in the hands of a greedy few, causing economic crises and heightened conflict between the rich and working classes. 'Accumulation of wealth at one pole is at the same time accumulation of misery, agony of toil, slavery, ignorance, brutality, mental degradation, at the opposite pole,' Marx wrote.

... Marx would have predicted ... As the proletariat woke to their common class interests, they’d overthrow the unjust capitalist system and replace it with a new, socialist wonderland. Communists “openly declare that their ends can be attained only by the forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions,” Marx wrote. “The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains.” There are signs that the world’s laborers are increasingly impatient with their feeble prospects.

... That leaves open a scary possibility: that Marx not only diagnosed capitalism’s flaws but also the outcome of those flaws. If policymakers don’t discover new methods of ensuring fair economic opportunity, the workers of the world may just unite. Marx may yet have his revenge."

Draw your own conclusions

We have spoken about learning the language of the economists -- that this is something that literacy workers need to have in our toolbox in order to understand policy and to speak to policy makers. I think Richard Wolff is an economist who would agree.

I think he also agrees with those who speak the language of literacy - observe your reality, discuss your reality, read about it, analyse it and finally, transform it. In other words, get your critical thinking, transformational mojo on.

There are many economists who speak a language that is very close to the language of literacy workers.

In this extended interview with Richard Wolff from Democracy Now, he discusses how his parents fled Hitler and immigrated to the United States from Germany during World War II, and how he "grew up convinced that understanding the political and economic environment I lived in was an urgent matter that had to be done, and made me a little different from many of my fellow kids in school who didn’t have that sense of the urgency of understanding how the world worked to be able to navigate an unstable and often dangerous world."

If you would rather read this interview, click on the Democracy Now link to read the transcript.

Here is the Democracy Now interview with Richard Woolf about the American economy - Capitalism in Crisis: Richard Wolff Urges End to Austerity, New Jobs Program, Democratizing Work. Click here to read the transcript.

We live in a country that says it goes to war around the world to bring democracy and that its central, most important political value is democracy. If you believe that—and I am a fervent supporter of democracy, and obviously you are—you’ve named your program that way—then we ought to have democracy in the place where we as adults spend most of our time. Five out of seven days we go to work. We walk into a place where we use our brains and our muscles eight or more hours, five out of seven days. If democracy is an important value, it ought to be right there, first and foremost. But we don’t. We basically have a situation where, for most of us, we go to work in a place where the decisions that are made are made by a tiny group of people. The major shareholders who own the block of shares in our system select a board of directors, 15 to 20 people, and they make the basic decisions: what to produce, how to produce it, where to produce it, and what to do with the profits. The rest of us must live with the results of that decision. ... Let’s build an option, a real choice for Americans, between working in a non-democratic, top-down-organized capitalist enterprise or in what, for lack of a better term, we can call "cooperatives," workplaces that are organized democratically. I think we’ll have less inequality of income, we will have less pollution of our environment, and we’ll have less loss of jobs out of the country, if those decisions were made by the people, as they should have been from the beginning, who will not make the kinds of decisions that got us into the mess of economic crisis that we’re in now.

Flaherty will get you nowhere.

The name of this post is one of my father's favourite jokes. So that will tell you a little about the sense of humour around our place.

A couple of weeks ago I quoted from someone just as estimable - Juliet Merrifield's 1998 NCSALL report, Contested Ground: Performance Accountability,
"The customers of adult education began to be defined as employers, interested in the “product” of skilled employees."
Jim Flaherty's 2013 budget reinforces this notion. In it he proposes to change the Labour Market Agreements (LMAs) yet again. In 2014 he will launch the Canada Job Grant program, a wage subsidy scheme that would see the federal government provide business with $5,000 per worker for training if the provincial government and business agree to match the funds per worker. I think what this means that a business would identify a worker to be trained in a specific set of skills and pay $5,000 towards the training of that worker and two levels of government would subsidize that training with $10,000.

One of the things that IALSS told us was that participation in employer-sponsored training is not equal across groups of workers, and workers with the least education are also least likely to participate in training. So asking employers to pony up is a good thing, right?


The Canada Job Grant takes $300 million-per-year from the current $500 million Labour Market Agreements. This could mean a reduction in other types of training, opportunities not requested by employers.

For example, the Canadian Labour Congress reports:
Current training spending through LMAs and LMDAs meets this critical labour market need. Adequate literacy is one key skill that many Canadians lack. The LMA is the sole source of government funding for workplace literacy training. .... For example, in Ontario 70% of literacy training funding is provided through the LMDA and LMA. Literacy and numeracy training enables Canadians to take on higher skilled, in demand job training, such as construction trade apprenticeships.
And David Macdonald at The Progressive Economics Forum says:
There is also a large change in how unemployment training is provided. The federal government devolved the unemployment training to the provinces in 2007. Now they are taking $500 million of that back through a new “Canada Job Grants” program. ... The requirements are few and the control is in the hands of employers. Basically if employers are running any training programs right now, they’ll be able to claim them through this program and get funding for what they were already doing. The dead-weight loss will be significant.

However, we already know that Canadian employers spend much less on training than other countries, like the US. Canadian CEOs love to complain about the so called ‘skills gap’ while at the same time doing little to train their own employees to fill it, or hire new ones and train them. Given this lack of interest from employers this program at most will provide $500 million, but if provinces or employers don’t buy in, it could provide substantially less than that. All of this funding, or lack thereof, will be taken out of current training programs for the unemployed.
In their analysis of the budget, Citizens for Social Justice 
...remain concerned about their single-minded focus on labour market solutions. Such focus communicates a decided lack of understanding of the broader social needs of Canadians (as well as a refusal to acknowledge the damage done by the systematic erosion of federal financial resources brought on by far-reaching tax cuts). Better aligning jobs and training will not address the situation of people working in precarious, low-wage jobs that don't provide enough for them to make ends meet. Nor will it respond to fundamental issues of human well-being – which go far beyond financial well-being.

Others wonder about the evidence for the oft-cited skills and labour shortages. We hear that that Prime Minister Harper is peeved and that Conservative "insiders" claim "There’s a general feeling there are too many kids getting BAs and not enough welders," but is this more than a feeling?

Andrew Jackson, Professor of Social Justice at York University and Senior Policy Adviser to the Broadbent Institute, asks whether "the federal government prefers labour market policy to be guided by employer opinion, or by accurate labour market information." In a Globe and Mail article, Does Canada have a labour shortage or a skills shortage? he says that
With the national unemployment rate at 7.4 per cent – well above the pre-recession level of about 6 per cent – and with 5.2 unemployed workers for every available job opening reported by employers, it would seem that Canada is not suffering generalized labour shortages.
It is true that some sectors report a skills shortage and can back that up with evidence that in these occupations "unemployment is almost non-existent and wages are rising rapidly" but that "a planned Statistics Canada Workplace Survey which would have obtained very detailed information on job vacancies, has been cancelled for 2012, an apparent victim of spending cuts. That leaves us with a very limited survey of job vacancies which provides no information at all on vacancies by occupation, nor on what measures employers have taken to try to fill reported vacancies."

Don Drummond himself made this point about lack of accurate labour market data on last Sunday's CBC program The House.

Why would employers report skills shortages that do not exist?

Jackson says
Employers have a very strong tendency to complain that they cannot find the workers they need at the wages that they want to pay, [emphasis mine] whereas most economists want to see evidence of genuine shortages in the form of a low unemployment rate and wages rising at well above the average rate.
That seems a little harsh. There must be some data to support the claims of skills and labour shortages.

The Institute for Competitiveness and Prosperity reports
...our research shows that growth in employment in the skilled trades has been slower than growth across all other occupations. Moreover, the unemployment rate for the skilled trades matches that of all other occupations – the major exceptions being during the recession of the early 1990s, where skilled trade unemployment exceeded all other occupations by about 2 to 3 percentage points, and during the current recession.

But these national statistics smooth over regional disparities. While growth in eastern Canada has been nil, it has been very buoyant in the west – home of the resource industries. Furthermore, unemployment among the skilled trades was particularly low in western Canada just prior to the current recession. These findings suggest that strong economic growth in the west may have strained the available supply of trades people, leading to temporary labour shortages there.

Still, if there was a shortage, we would also expect to see wages growing faster among the trades than among all other occupations. Our research, however, finds that growth in compensation has been slower among the skilled trades than among all other occupations. While wages are higher than the average for all occupations, they’re not growing any faster. Andrew Sharpe of the Centre for the Study of Living Standards, in his analysis of reported skilled trades shortages in manufacturing, argues that shortages in that sector are partially driven by the inability of manufacturers to attract workers at wages they can competitively sustain. Thus, the observed lack of wage growth may still coincide with shortages, at least in that sector. This isn’t just a problem of labour shortages, but of unsustainable business models.

On balance, it would appear that strong economic growth in western Canada may have created temporary trades person shortages. With the current economic slowdown, the issue has been made less pressing.
Alex Usher, president of Higher Education Strategy Associates,  seems to agree in this Globe and Mail article, Really, a skilled-labour shortage? In truth, we need arts grads:
So where do these notions of skills shortages and uber-successful plumbers come from? Mainly from Saskatchewan and Alberta, where skill-shortages do in fact exist thanks to the ongoing resource boom. But skill shortages in these provinces are not limited to skilled trades: though they hardly figure in recent policy discussions, they are at least as acute in the health sector as they are in trades.
So despite the Prime Minister's peevishness and Conservative feelings about the ratio of welders to BAs, it seems that this situation is specific to a certain region of Canada and, as Usher says
Given the regional nature of the shortages, it’s not entirely clear how the federal government has much of a role to play.
Thomas Walkom at the Toronto Star, Joe Friesen at the Globe and Mail and researchers at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives report on the ways that the Temporary Foreign Worker program may be having an impact on the perceived skills and labour shortages.

Friesen says:
The rise of temporary foreign workers, who now occupy one in 50 jobs, has become a source of controversy as the economy sputters. Critics of the program argue that it depresses wages and fosters unsafe work conditions. Employers say it provides a reliable stream of labour and fuels economic growth.
CCPA would be listed among the critics:
Since 2006, the number of “guest” workers has surpassed that of economic immigrants who can become permanent residents and ultimately Canadian citizens. This policy shift not only increases the vulnerability of these workers, but also undermines wages and conditions for all workers in Canada.
as would Walkom:
Employers don’t train workers because most don’t have to.

They expect government to train workers at public cost. And if that doesn’t work, businesses expect government to let them import from abroad workers who are already trained.
If the federal government has a role to play in ensuring a good match between Canadian workers and employment opportunities, perhaps it is less in directing training initiatives and more in rolling back changes to the Temporary Foreign Worker program
Rather than respond to long-standing violations of migrant worker rights, Ministers Kenney and Finley recently announced that employers seeking highly skilled workers can now get their applications processed swiftly, and they can also pay these workers up to 15% less than the average rate of pay for those occupations.
and Employment Insurance eligibility
The changes to the system emerged because it was argued that ‘overly generous’ EI benefits discourage people from working while inhibiting labour market flexibility. However, a report published by the OECD actually found that “reforms that reduce the generosity of unemployment benefits are likely to reduce the aggregate level of measured productivity”. Providing unemployed workers with the time and resources to find jobs that match their skills results in increased overall economic efficiency.
But the silver lining is that Jim Flaherty's new program has shone a light on the issue of skills and labour in Canada and now we might better understand what literacy workers, tasked with preparing students for jobs, mean when they ask, "What jobs?" Especially if they are working outside of Alberta or Saskatchewan.

Community Literacy of Ontario has prepared a round up of what others in literacy (with a focus on Ontario) are saying about Budget 2013 - download the PDF.

An Economy of Skills

The other day John Ivison of the National Post wrote this article, Ottawa set to cancel $2-billion in EI training transfers to the provinces, in which he outlines Ottawa's plans to return
  • the $2-billion it currently transfers to provinces to train those who qualify for Employment Insurance and 
  • the  $500-million it transfers under labour market agreements to train those not eligible for EI 
to federal coffers to fund a federal training program.

Such a move could be hard on Ontario literacy programs. In 2012-13, approximately 22% of the funding for Literacy and Basic Skills (LBS) programming will come to Ontario through the federal labour market agreement.
"Mr. Flaherty’s argument is said to be that the provinces are producing uneven results that do not address the skills shortages identified by the Canadian Chamber of Commerce as the number one barrier to competitiveness in this country. He has already lined up supporters for his new initiative from all sides of the political spectrum."
One supporter of this funding reversal might be Don Drummond whose report is quoted in the article:
"In his comprehensive report on reforming Ontario’s public services, former TD bank chief economist Don Drummond said the province had to improve the way it tracked outcomes. While it measured the number of clients served and how satisfied they were, there were few statistics about subsequent employment duration or wage levels."
And there is the rub.

In the last few years, the Ontario government moved LBS to Employment Ontario and implemented
part of an overarching strategy designed to create a cohesive set of policies and improved processes throughout the Employment Ontario system so that programs can better work together to address client needs. Employment Ontario intends to transform the way MTCU delivers training and employment programs to achieve more effective and efficient services and better results.
The ABCs of CIPMS, Community Literacy of Ontario

While LBS still supports five goal paths to meet three possible goals (Upgrading your education or training, Getting a job, Becoming more independent), all of these initiatives have served the Objective and Function of fostering closer links between literacy training and employment best.

More and more literacy programs are being asked to report on employment outcomes as well as educational ones. Some see these initiatives as privileging the goal of "getting a job" above the other stated possible goals but, I guess for Mr. Flaherty and Mr. Drummond, this is not enough.

Today Mr. Ivison published another article, Tories will need solid data to justify clawing back $2.5-billion in training transfers. Here he reports:
No one has any doubt Canada has a problem. As report after report has highlighted, there is a growing divide between have and have-not occupations.

Benjamin Tal at CIBC World Markets noted that on one hand skilled jobs are going unfilled, while at the other end of the labour market spectrum there is a surplus pool of workers who can’t find jobs.

This two-speed labour market is driving up wages in sectors like oil and gas extraction, where salaries have risen 36% in the past five years, and in the utilities industry, which has seen pay go up 21% in the same period. The government has responded by overhauling the federal skilled worker program to admit more immigrants who can help fill the skills gap.

Yet for workers in areas like the clerical sector, food services and sales, real wage growth has been frozen and people thrown out of work.
Is this a problem for literacy programs to solve? I know that we have heard recently that we need to learn the language of the economists but are we to actually become economists? Is it time to admit that human capital theories that disregard the role of the the larger economy are not that useful in proposing solutions to skills shortages and/or surpluses? Is it time for literacy workers and learners to go back to being accountable for educational outcomes and leave accountability for economic outcomes to those that might have some power over them?

Because, as Ivison also reports, there is this:
Yet as Hays, the recruiting consultancy, noted in its 2012 global skills index, a bigger contributor to the talent mismatch than skills training is Canada’s education system, which is not producing graduates with the relevant degrees that employers require. If the same logic holds that Ottawa knows best, what’s the point of a decentralized federation? The feds should just cut education transfers and guide policy for the country’s schools, colleges and universities from Parliament Hill.