government

Same Question, Different Answers: How It Happens

How can two studies researching the same question come up with two different answers? That was the dilemma that several media outlets recently had to confront, with the release of the results of two studies looking at the impact of the city of Seattle’s minimum wage ordinance, which raised the minimum wage rate for workers in that city. Even though the studies were looking at the same issue, they came up with results that contradicted each other.

The results of the first study indicated that the wage increase didn’t reduce overall job numbers or hours of work. Media: “Yay! Minimum wage increases are a good thing.” But then the results of the second study indicated that the wage increase caused declines in both numbers of jobs and amounts of work. Media: “Um…okay, maybe minimum wage increases aren’t that great.”

The fact that these studies had different results doesn’t mean that one study is right and the other is wrong, or that both studies are wrong and nobody really knows what happened. The studies are admittedly not easy reading – both use complex forms of economic analysis that, frankly, I wouldn’t try to explain because I would probably get them wrong. But we can still look at how the studies were designed and carried out to see if there are reasons why their results might differ.

Here’s a table that (more…)

Ask Not What Amazon Can Do For You

The mighty Amazon has announced that it is looking for a city in which to locate a second North American headquarters (“HQ2” in Amazon-speak), to supplement its operations in its home base of Seattle.  It’s also released a set of specifications describing what it’s looking for in a new location. The reaction to this announcement has resembled the 1960s TV game show The Dating Game, in which a single man or woman would ask questions to three blushing men or women on the other side of a wall. Based on the answers, the questioner would choose which of the three they wanted to go on a date with, and then the lucky couple would finally get to see each other and go on a fabulous night out.

So Amazon has asked its questions, and 238 cities and regions throughout North America have answered, with (more…)

Not Normal

The Emmy Awards ceremony is usually an evening of fun and frocks, during which some awards are also handed out. But this year’s ceremony in mid-September came under fire for starting things off with a comedy skit featuring former White House press secretary Sean Spicer. Some commentators argued that, in his former job, Spicer regularly defended his boss’ racist and xenophobic decisions, so they wanted to hear him apologize before they were willing to listen to him tell jokes. Others argued that it was just a comedy skit, and Spicer deserved a second chance – particularly since he was fired from the White House, rather than quitting – and that like any other disgraced public figure he should have the opportunity to rebuild his reputation.

My feelings lie toward more toward the “not ready for jokes yet” perspective. I’m a big fan of Stephen Colbert – and his principled and honest attitude toward his work – and I’m also a viewer of his show who really appreciates him calling out the ridiculousness of the actions of the Trump administration. So I was quite disappointed to learn that Colbert was apparently responsible for arranging Spicer’s Emmy appearance. There are likely larger issues of forgiveness and redemption going on in this situation that would take a very long time to pick apart here. But I’ll just say that, given Colbert’s insightful commentaries on the serious implications of Trump’s conduct, I would have thought that Colbert would have anticipated the potential for negative blowback from Spicer’s participation in the show.

What particularly troubles me about the decision to feature Spicer on the Emmys is how it demonstrates “normalization”. This is the phenomenon in which (more…)

A Strike That’s Gone On Too Long

Last week there was a significant event in Nova Scotia that went largely unnoticed in the rest of Canada. Unfortunately it’s not a positive event, and it deserves more attention.

Over 50 unionized newsroom employees at the Chronicle Herald newspaper in Halifax have now been on strike for more than 500 days. Yes, almost a year and a half. (The length of the average work stoppage in Canada is six days.) The strike started on January 23, 2016, after (more…)

Public Education and the British Columbia Provincial Election

Some of this blog’s readers are likely already aware that the Canadian province of British Columbia (where I live) is going to have a provincial general election on May 9.  Lots of issues are being raised in the election campaign: jobs, the cost of housing, natural resources, regional inequities, and campaign financing.

As in any election, education is also an important issue. The platforms of BC’s three major political parties – the Liberals (who, as the party with the most elected representatives in BC’s Legislature, are the current governing party), the New Democratic Party (NDP), and the Green Party – all have promises related to elementary and secondary (K-12) education. That’s heartening to see, because publicly-funded education is an essential part of a democratic, equal-opportunity society. However, the election discussions around BC’s K-12 public education system have not always included the significant events around that system in the last few years. I think these events should have a higher profile during this election – not just because (more…)

Being Innovative About Innovation

Canada’s federal government released its 2017 budget last week – and the word of the day was “innovation”. By one estimate, “innovation” is mentioned more than 200 times in the 278-page budget document. And there’s lots of money available for innovation too: more than $8.2 billion directed toward various programs around skill and product development.

But despite the numerous mentions of “innovation” in the budget document, it’s difficult to find a clear explanation of how the federal government defines that term.  The government is right that workplaces are changing, and that workers and employers need to adapt to changes that affect their industries. But from looking at what the government is actually funding, it appears that the government is defining “innovation” mostly in relation to developing new technology, particularly around inventions that can be patented or commercialized. And much of the funding around “innovation” is devoted to creating conditions in which technology-based development can happen: for example, supporting “superclusters” of researchers and entrepreneurs to encourage business development in technology-related industries, or funding programs that teach kids how to code.

But let’s step back and look at this for a minute. (more…)

Bob White and “Final Offer”

This morning brought the sad news that Bob White had passed away.  He was the founding president of the Canadian Auto Workers union – now known as Unifor, the largest private-sector union in Canada  – and a former president of the Canadian Labour Congress, the national federation of Canadian unions.

White accomplished some incredible things in his long and productive life, but one of his activities is particularly meaningful to me. This is the documentary film Final Offer, made in 1984 by director Sturla Gunnarsson for the National Film Board of Canada. Final Offer chronicles (more…)

Why Government Is Not A Business

There’s more than enough information on the Internet right now about the havoc being inflicted on the United States by President Donald Trump and his associates. However, there are two perspectives on this craziness that I want to bring to your attention.

Some commenters have said they are not surprised at Trump’s behaviour in his new job because he’s “acting like a businessman”. In other words, he’s doing what the new CEO of any new business would do: setting up new procedures, changing things that need changing, and bringing in staff that he feels comfortable working with. Leaving aside the fact that Trump is a much less successful businessman than he pretends to be, this situation is a (more…)

Supreme Court of Canada Decision in the BC Teachers’ Federation Case (Part II)

On November 10, the Supreme Court of Canada delivered an oral decision in the legal dispute between the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) – the union representing teachers in BC’s public school system – and the British Columbia provincial government.

That decision ended a 14-year legal battle between the two parties over the BC government’s decision to pass legislation that removed the language around class size and composition from its collective agreement with the BCTF, and that also excluded those issues from collective bargaining. The BCTF claimed that the government’s actions violated Section 2(d) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which guarantees freedom of association. Two previous Supreme Court of Canada decisions – in the Fraser case and the Health Services case – have established that in the context of labour relations, “freedom of association” includes workers’ rights to form unions and to engage in collective bargaining.

The Supreme Court decision on November 10 was remarkable because (more…)

Supreme Court of Canada Decision in The BC Teachers’ Federation Case (Part I)

This Thursday, the Supreme Court of Canada held its hearing of an appeal by the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation (BCTF), the union that represents teachers in British Columbia’s public school system.

This ongoing case – which started in 2002 – involves several actions by the BC provincial government in its collective bargaining for a contract with the BCTF, primarily around the government’s decision to pass legislation declaring that some items would not be bargained, and removing those same items from the collective agreement that was then in effect. The BCTF opposed both of these changes. Later, there were also issues around the government’s conduct during bargaining.

The BC Supreme Court twice ruled in the BCTF’s favour, once in 2011 and again in 2014. The BC government appealed the 2014 ruling, and the BC Court of Appeal overturned that ruling. The Court of Appeal decision was the basis of the BCTF’s appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada.

I think it’s fair to say that all parties involved with this case expected that a case this complex would entail a lengthy hearing at the Supreme Court, followed by several months for the nine judges to review the arguments and write their decision. However, much to everyone’s surprise, (more…)