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Key survey on job vacancies is vague, not terribly useful: auditor general

OTTAWA - The country's top survey on job vacancies is too vague and doesn't provide much value to governments and other users, the auditor general said Tuesday.

Michael Ferguson's latest report comes as the Conservative government faces scrutiny on the Temporary Foreign Workers Program, meant to address labour shortages in certain sectors.

Ferguson said Statistics Canada's survey of employment, payrolls and hours doesn't provide specifics on the precise location of job vacancies within a province.

"For example, reported job vacancies in Alberta could be in Fort McMurray, Grande Prairie, Medicine Hat, or any other community in the province," says the report.

Industry classifications in the survey are broad, noted Ferguson, and don't provide much indication of the particular jobs that need to be filled.

"Users informed us that as a result of these shortcomings, available information on job vacancies is of limited value to them."

Federal and provincial ministers agreed on the need for more data on job vacancies in 2009, and StatCan added questions to the survey to address that in 2011.

Employment Minister Jason Kenney recently came under fire after it was revealed the federal government had been using Kijiji, an online classified service, to help give it a sense of labour needs. That practice has since been dropped.

Ferguson's report also recommends Statistics Canada determine whether it should keep certain surveys alive even after a department or other organization stops providing funding for them.

The auditor general's report also reviewed the National Household Survey, the voluntary questionnaire that the Conservative government used to replace the mandatory long-form census in 2011.

Ferguson found that small towns and communities are missing out on key statistical data as a result of the change.

Statistics Canada withheld information on a quarter of Canadian communities, or three per cent of the population, because of the low quality of the data in the smaller areas. The biggest area had almost 10,000 residents, the region around Lake Simcoe in Ontario.

The report said Statistics Canada needs to consider how it can better serve the needs of those who use information on smaller municipalities, including the towns themselves, non-governmental organizations and private companies.

Statistics Canada responded by saying it is seeing how it could use alternative sources to beef up its information on those communities, including use of administrative data. The agency wasn't specific, but that could refer to other information kept on the population by government bodies, such as tax returns and driver's licence registrations.

The agency recently announced it would be sticking with the National Household Survey for the 2016 census. The Conservatives eliminated the long-form despite widespread criticism, saying it did not agree with threatening Canadians with fines and jail time for not divulging their personal information.

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The Canadian Press

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