Ottawa’s response to ‘gig economy’ hindered by unreliable data, documents say

Documents show feds were unsure of existing data on number of Canadians earn livings online

A Lyft logo is installed on a Lyft driver’s car next to an Uber sticker. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Gene J. Puskar, File

A newly released government document shows that federal officials feel stymied by data roadblocks in their bid to help policymakers tackle a growing political concern about the country’s “gig” economy.

Documents obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act show federal officials were leery of the reliability of existing data on the number of Canadians using online platforms to earn their livings, even though the figures had come from reputable sources.

The late-March briefing note shows officials at Employment and Social Development Canada were looking for alternatives.

Federal officials have been closely watching the changes in the labour force away from full-time jobs in favour of more temporary, part-time or contract work.

Available research suggests young people are more often found in these positions, which can be lower-paid and without benefits or longer-term job security. That makes the effects of the gig economy of particular interest to politicians: millennials make up the largest voting cohort this election season.

Concerns about the ripple effects have prodded changes to the Canada Pension Plan, analysts’ deep policy dives into the future of the federal social safety net, new spending on skills training and amendments to the federal labour code.

What makes measuring the size of the gig economy so difficult is that there are competing definitions of what it includes. ESDC officials leaned on an American definition that described gig workers as those who take short work or tasks through websites or mobile apps that arrange payment and connect them directly to consumers.

For instance, driving Ubers, making SkipTheDishes deliveries, or picking up odd work from TaskRabbit. Putting together multiple part-time jobs, soliciting work through a website such as Kijiji, or surviving on short-term contracts didn’t count.

Underlying concerns about the gig economy is a demographic shift firmly underway in Canada. Aging baby boomers will retire in droves over the coming years without enough young workers to replace them — which raises a potential problem. Unlike the Canada Pension Plan, old-age security payments are funded by tax dollars, and federal coffers might not be able to cover the cost of seniors’ benefits that are increasing faster than inflation.

Add to that populist concerns about immigrants, who have been the main drivers of population growth as birth rates have declined, and there is a potential potent mixture for the coming election campaign.

What to do beyond election day has engrossed federal officials from multiple departments, who have tested worst-case scenarios and a range of possible policy responses.

Armine Yalnizyan, an economist who has researched the gig economy in detail, said available data suggests a growth in the platforms could erode wages for engineers, accountants, programmers and lawyers as companies connect with cheaper overseas labour. Federal programs either provide workers with capped income supports — which for high-wage workers would be well below the earnings they’re used to — or retraining funding, she said.

READ MORE: Bank of Canada offers explanations for country’s ‘puzzling’ wage disappointment

“This isn’t the hollowing out of the middle, this is the hollowing out of the high-skill, high-wage class and we don’t have programs for that crowd,” Yalnizyan said.

“What are you going to train them in? They’ve just spent seven to 10 years training and spent a fortune on it. Obviously, our systems are not designed for that reality and that’s where we’re hitting the stress tests.”

Jordan Press, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Narissa Young brings her Diana Krall tribute to Courtenay

Thursday Night Jazz at The Avalanche Bar will be something exceptional this… Continue reading

Comox Valley Move2Electric aims to decrease GHG emissions

Organizers of the 2019 Comox Valley Move2Electric car and bike show had… Continue reading

CSWM board votes to close two Comox Valley recycling depots

Board also rejects idea to reconsider Campbell River depot closures

Passing the torch: Comox Valley Child Development Association executive director Joanne Schroeder retires

This past month, the Comox Valley Child Development Association (CVCDA) said farewell… Continue reading

Wounded Warrior Run comes to Comox Feb. 26

Campaign is aiming for $250,000 to support military members, first responders

VIDEO: Minister reports ‘modest progress’ after blockade talks with First Nation

Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs say Coastal GasLink does not have authority to go through their lands

Comox Valley Beefs & Bouquets for week of Feb. 11

Readers strike back at tip-expectant server

Murder of sex worker exposes Canada’s hypocrisy on prostitution: advocate

A 2014 law made purchasing sex or benefiting from the selling of sex illegal

Wet’suwet’en return to northern B.C. forest road pipeline workers move through: First Nation

Opponents of a pipeline who support the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs have reoccupied camps at centre of arrests

Comox Valley Women’s Memorial March honours missing, murdered women

About 150 people gathered Friday at Simms Park in Courtenay for the… Continue reading

BC Ferries gets injunction against demonstrations in solidarity with Wet’suwet’en

The preemptive injunction is a ‘last resort in the interest of public safety,’ spokesperson says

Over a dozen birds found mysteriously dead on rural B.C road

Ministry of Agriculture notified of the strange occurrence on No. 4 Road in Abbotsford

B.C. men arrested after theft of heavy equipment leads to highway blockade

One man surrendered to police while the other was taken into custody the next morning, RCMP say

Most Read