May 23, 2014 5:33 pm

Ontario election: Think candidate plans can fix job crisis? Think again

Watch above: Would candidates’ platforms address Ontario’s employment crisis?

Ray Smith has been out of work for a year.

He’s blind in one eye and 90% blind in the other. On the rare occasion he makes it through often inaccessible application processes, his disability scares employers away.

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Golam Ahmed has an MBA and no job. He has no job, interviewers tell him, because he has no Canadian experience. And eight months after coming to Toronto from Bangladesh, he’s had no chance to get Canadian experience because no one will give him a job.

Ontario’s employment crisis is far more complex than the candidates campaigning for your vote might make it seem. While all three major parties – the Liberals, the Progressive Conservative and the New Democrats – have pledged rosy job-creating strategies with specific numbers attached, the solution to what’s plaguing the province’s labour market is not so simple.

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REALITY CHECK: NDP platform

Young people can’t find work. Neither can new Canadians. Or Ontarians with disabilities. Or older workers whose industry’s obsolete.

And years after the recession ostensibly ended, the growing ranks of the long-term unemployed mean more people whose skills and connections have grown stale as their job prospects dim.

And the new jobs the province is creating aren’t nearly as good as the ones it’s lost: There’s an increasing number of part-time, temporary work that leaves employees juggling multiple jobs just to pay the bills. And not having benefits means living in perpetual uncertainty that hurts not only their economy-lifting consumer spending but their health, as well.

Long-term unemployment can stress you out, mess with your sleep patterns, trigger or exacerbate depression and has correlations with high blood pressure and heart disease as well as the frequency and severity of upper respiratory infections, says Chandrakant Shah, a professor at the University of Toronto who studies the impacts of unemployment on human health.

As of April there were 550,000 Ontarians looking for work. And while the province’s unemployment rate is at its lowest since December, 2008, the percentage of the working-age population either working or looking for work is at its lowest point this millennium.

In the meantime, the province is replacing lost full-time gigs with part-time ones that pay less.

Last year, 421,000 Ontarians said they were working part time not by choice, but because they couldn’t find full-time work. More than half had  virtually stopped looking.

And the hourly wage difference is massive: The median non-unionized temporary worker in Ontario earned $13 an hour in April, compared to $20 an hour for the median permanent worker. (The disparities are far greater if you include unionized employees, who make significantly more)

And while Kathleen Wynne, Tim Hudak and Andrea Horwath have all promised that the jobs their policies will create will be full-time ones, it isn’t clear how that will happen. Nor is it clear how they’ll target those most in need of work.

READ MORE: Okay, really: Can politicians create jobs?

For 12 years, Smith, who lives in Ajax, worked at the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board doing community outreach. He was laid off during restructuring last May.

And while he’s still on salary continuance, he’s terrified of going on EI once that runs out at the end of June.

“I’ve never been on EI before,” Smith said. “I’ve never been on ODSP.”

Ray_Smith_UW

Smith says he’s getting help from the Durham Region Employment Network. But he’s disappointed none of the candidates have addressed the challenges he’s facing getting back to work.

“I haven’t been able to apply for around 20 jobs because of this. We’re competing with able-bodied job seekers. We are left out to fend for ourselves. No party has highlighted this issue,” he said.

“It will be even harder for people with disabilities to get a job as there will be so much more competition for them.”

People with disabilities are about twice as likely to be unemployed as their able-bodied counterparts, and make about 65 cents on the dollar.

The Tories have pledged to get more people with disabilities into jobs through post-secondary education and better connections with employers.

The Liberals have promised invest $810 million in the community and developmental services sector over the next three years.

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When Ahmed came to Canada from  Bangladesh last November, he figured he was prepared: In the years he’d spent waiting for his paperwork to be approved, he’d researched Canada’s labour market and any additional credentials he’d need.

He even – believe it or not – likes winter.

TH_RAW GOLAM AHMED 4 ONLINE-STILL FRAME

He figures he’s applied for 30 jobs, and got callbacks from three. In the meantime, he’s seen his savings dwindle.

“It’s definitely not a pleasant experience,” he said. But he’s circumspect about it.  “My present focus is working in the financial services industry, so here they need someone with experience working in Canada with clients. So far, it has been tough.”

For now he’s volunteering, working for free to gain that vaunted experience, receiving assistance from government-funded employment agencies such as ACCESS Employment.

But it’s not just a hit to Ahmed’s pocketbook.

“The cost of the non-recognition of learning (of all Canadians – but primarily immigrants) cost the Canadian economy $4.1 – 5.9 billion in 2001. In 2014 dollars, that translates to $5.3 – 7.6 billion,” says Michelle Parkouda, Senior Research Associate with The Conference Board of Canada.

Parkouda says around 40% of recent immigrants working in regulated professions report having difficulties getting their credentials recognized.

The Liberals have been pushing Ottawa for more say over attracting skilled immigrants to the province, and have said they’ll keep funding hundreds of bridging programs meant to help people with foreign credentials.

The PCs have pledged to expand “proven initiatives that match job-ready new Canadians with skills-hungry Ontario employer,” but couldn’t elaborate on what that means.

© Shaw Media, 2014

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