Yukon challenges StatsCan

Statistics Canada's unemployment numbers for the territory are junk, says the Yukon government. The national labour survey for May, which pinned the territory's unemployment at 10.

Statistics Canada’s unemployment numbers for the territory are junk, says the Yukon government.

The national labour survey for May, which pinned the territory’s unemployment at 10.4 per cent, is methodologically unsound, said Gary Finnegan, head of the Yukon’s statistics bureau.

“This should have been caught years ago,” said Finnegan, speaking about one of the survey’s more prominent defects.

The figure is drastically higher than last year’s unemployment rate for May, 7.8 per cent, and continues a rising trend that began this March when the number was 9.2 per cent.

The Economic Development Department also came out swinging against Statistics Canada’s numbers.

The high figures are the “wrong message to send to Yukoners,” said deputy minister Harvey Brooks, whose department is in charge of promoting the Yukon’s economy. Employers are complaining about not having enough workers, he noted.

But the hard part is nailing down exactly why Ottawa’s numbers are wrong.

The Yukon’s statistics branch sent letters to Statistics Canada in December 2008 advising the national agency of a glitch in its method.

The agency performs its survey by phoning households in a region and asking if people are looking for work. In every province and territory, they pick a bunch of communities from different population levels. They rotate the communities used in each group to help randomize the tests.

Since at least the 1980s, Dawson City, Watson Lake and Faro have been counted in the same group. But Faro has shed hundreds of residents in the last two decades due to mine closures.

Finnegan, who joined the Yukon’s statistics office in February 2007, noticed the anachronism and sent a letter to Statistics Canada advising it of the problem in December 2008.

“I was stunned when I saw Faro was in the rotation,” he said.

“This should have been caught when Faro depopulated a long time ago.”

More precisely, it should have been caught after the 2001 or 2006 Canada-wide census.

But when Ottawa unveiled a new rotation in October 2009, Faro was still in the lineup.

And after several more months of negotiations between Ottawa and Whitehorse, Statistics Canada agreed to place Faro into a pool of communities closer to its population size.

But that won’t happen until January 2011.

It’s difficult changing a methodology, said Jason Gilmore, a senior analyst with Statistics Canada.

“We determined we could make some adjustments to all three territories with minimal disruption both to collection and the other surveys in the North and co-ordinate for January 2011,” said Gilmore.

“We’re recognizing that Faro is a smaller community now than it should be,” he said.

Nevertheless, Gilmore stands by the unemployment numbers that include Faro.

“We stand by the numbers. They are reflecting the reality,” he said. “It’s an adjustment, that’s all it is.”

Back in the Yukon, Finnegan admitted the Faro glitch only accounts for some of the wonky unemployment numbers.

Other employment figures collected by Statistics Canada also demonstrate unemployment can’t be as high as 10.4 per cent, said Brooks.

The survey of employment, payrolls and hours – a tally of all payroll documents sent to Revenue Canada – indicates an increase in 228 jobs this March over last year, he said. But the percentage of unemployed people could still be increasing if the number of available jobs available is also going up.

The Yukon has had to pressure Ottawa to change methodology before.

Population figures from both organizations differ wildly because of the geographic regions they use to tally small communities.

Requests by the statistics bureau to Statistics Canada will likely make the 2011 census, set to begin next May, more precise than the last, said Finnegan.

“It’s important we get those numbers right,” he said.

“That information will influence all the information, like the labour survey, for the next five years.”

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