Labour: Reframing the debate, engaging conversation

May 2, 2019 | Blog, Governance | 3 comments

A common theme for the BC NDP government is affordability. They focus on how they are decreasing the impact of the rising costs in all aspects of our lives. Every announcement is tagged with how they are making life more affordable.

Even as a government boasts about the “strong economy”, many British Columbians are struggling. While the government points to the gross domestic product (GDP), the economic indicator most commonly used to support the narrative that we are doing well, food, housing and transportation costs overwhelm people and families. The “strong economy” is somehow not translating to the people.

As I wrote on Tuesday “many people in our communities are struggling because the cost of living is outpacing incomes, pensions and savings. Disruption in our workforce and the changing nature of work, compensation and remuneration are further adding stress to these growing social tensions.”

Reviewing labour

In the “Report of the B.C. Labour Relations Code Review Panel” the panelists highlight the history of ideological policy lurches in our province. In their words,

“There have been a number of pendulum swings in important Code provisions over the past 30 years largely depending on the governing political party. This is not consistent with predictability, certainty or balance. Although not an easy task, it is essential to avoid pendulum swings by implementing balanced changes that are sustainable. Certainty and predictability are important considerations for investment decisions and the competitive position of B.C. in an increasingly globalized economy.”

This statement follows a thorough description of how the economy and work is changing. Over the decades, demographics, the growth of non-standard work, globalization and fissuring, technology, growth of the service sector and union density are all evolving. I recommend you read the executive summary of the report to learn more about the specifics of each of these issues.

So, when it comes to work and workers, swinging between polarized political ideologies is “not consistent with predictability, certainty or balance.” This is a tradition in British Columbia and part our culture. It is easy for politicians to get in the sandbox and throw sand at each other. It’s easy for journalists to report on the sand-throwing incident. This is how we have always handled labour issues in our province and it’s the easy narrative.

De-polarizing labour

When there are only two voices on the topic, it reinforces the polarity. But that has changed as well. Now, the Green Party is a third voice in the discussion. I have no interest climbing into the sandbox. As legislators, we have a responsibility to understand the current conditions and develop the appropriate policy. This is especially true for government legislators. Government has to steward the economy and look after people. In my opinion there should be no polarity there because it is all part of the same sphere.

In 2019, we must be using the proper tools to evaluate the strength of our society and that is not possible by measuring the number and amount of economic transactions alone. There are substantial challenges with solely measuring progress by the GDP because there are many other metrics we could track. That is why I believe we should measure our health and wellbeing with genuine progress indicators (GPI). Such a framework decouples social wellbeing and economic growth and measures them separately. In addition, we have to understand the changing nature of work. The report provides a clear warning to pay attention to the trends toward more precarious work, changing compensation and remuneration and the relationship between employer and employee. We must be seriously investigating new ways to provide liveable incomes and job security in this evolving landscape.

We do not help affordability in British Columbia by lurching between diametrically opposed political and economic ideologies. It’s time to rethink how we evaluate our economic and social strengths and be open to finding dynamic solutions for labour.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

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  1. Jacob Enns

    Getting away from polarization is the only way to measure true progress. I like the point of Genuine Progress Indicators.
    This allows sustainability to be included socially, economically, and ecologically. Thank you for being willing to get off the pendulum.
    How much time and money is spent undoing previous policies when an evidence based descion process allows GPI. we need a people centric rather than buisness centric model.

  2. Ellen Guttormson

    Just reading a very interesting book by Josepg Stiglitz, Nobel Prize winning economist who teaches at Columbia University in New York. Title is People, Power and Politics. Very pertinent to your blog today. Glad to loan it to you once I have finished reading.

    • Adam Olsen

      Absolutely! I would love to read it!


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