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

Photos of masked-marijuana-clinic robber released by Abbotsford police

Gunman robbed dispensary for cash and weed, still at large

Abbotsford-Mission has Canada’s third-highest ‘moving penalty’

Disparity between vacant/occupied units incentivizes renovictions & reduces mobility, researcher says

Abbotsford weed dispensary held up by masked robber with weapon

City’s second pot-shop robbery to take place in one month

Mysterious bang booms over Sumas Mountain once again

Police unsure of source, quarry companies say, ‘not us’

Mission City Outlaws up 3-1 on Langley

Mission needs just one more win to advance to round two

Blair says RCMP have met Wet’suwet’en conditions, calls for end to blockades

The Wet’suwet’en’s hereditary chiefs oppose the Coastal GasLink project

Wet’suwet’en who support Coastal GasLink pipeline gather in northern B.C.

Supporters of the pipeline are upset only one side is being heard nationwide

Court awards Surrey Costco shopping cart collector $583K after car pins him

Kurtis Ryan Burdeniuk, 22, was retrieving carts when driver backed into him in the parking lot, pinning him

Monster Jam set to roar back into Vancouver

Monster truck tour to stop at PNE Coliseum in March

One dead in multi-vehicle collision involving logging truck on northern B.C. highway

DriveBC says highway expected to remain closed until 8 p.m.

B.C. teacher gets 15-year ban after lying about having sex with just-graduated student

Teacher had been dishonest with the B.C. Commissioner for Teacher Regulation

Extradition case delayed for South Surrey fugitive caught in U.S. after year-long manhunt

Brandon Nathan Teixeira was arrested in California in December

Pipeline talks got B.C. railway open, can work again: Horgan

Premier says protest excesses damage Wet’suwet’en case

Exclusive: Pamela Anderson talks plans for waterfront Ladysmith property after 12-day marriage

Anderson says she can pay her own bills. Peters denies making comments suggesting she can’t

Most Read