Apprentice ad claim elicits NDP complaint to industry watchdog

The Opposition New Democrats say they have filed a complaint with the ad industry's self-regulatory watchdog, calling for a review of a new government ad touting a loan for apprentices because it contains "misleading" information, but the government maintains the ad is accurate.

Employment and Social Development Canada says ad claim based on 'accumulated industry projections'

A new government ad publicizing a loan program for apprentices says Canada will need one million skilled tradespeople over the next decade. (Employment and Social Development Canada)

The Opposition New Democrats say they have filed a complaint with the ad industry's self-regulatory watchdog, calling for a review of a new government ad touting a loan for apprentices because it contains "misleading" information.

The complaint comes after CBC News reported that a new ad, claiming the Canadian economy will need "one million skilled tradesmen and women" over the next decade, was unsupported by independent forecasts and even the government's own projections.

The government pointed CBC News to "a combination of industry estimates" to support its claim, but a closer look at those estimates showed Canada will need mainly high-skilled workers.

Jinny Sims, the NDP critic for employment and social development, said she filed a complaint on Monday with Advertising Standards Canada, the national not-for-profit advertising self-regulatory body, asking for a review of the ad.

"We're asking them to review it and if the ad doesn't meet the standards — absolutely this government needs to pull the ad.

"They've got to stop playing games with public dollars," Sims said in a telephone interview on Monday.

Alexandra Fortier, the spokeswoman for Employment Minister Jason Kenney, denied that the ad is misleading.

"What is misleading is the [CBC] article, not the ad," she said in an email on Monday.

The Department of Employment and Social Development Canada said in a separate email its claim is based on "accumulated" forecasts and referred CBC News to industry and provincial projections.

"The figure is accurate based on accumulated industry projections. These projections come from reputable organizations that represent both business and labour interests," the department said in an email on Monday evening.

The department pointed CBC News to the following "accumulated industry projections":

  • 50 per cent of Canadian manufacturers are experiencing labour shortages today, and by 2016, Canada will have 660,000 unskilled workers and 1.3 million skilled jobs sitting vacant, according to Canadian Manufacturing and Exporters.

  • As many as 300,000 new workers will be needed to replace retirees and meet project demands over the next 10 years, according to BuildForce Canada. 

  • In B.C. alone, one million job openings are expected to 2022, including 985,000 from already planned economic activity, including almost 100,000 jobs in the liquid natural gas sector, according to the B.C. 2022 Labour Market Outlook.

'Interest-free' loan?

    Sims said the government's claim that the new loan for apprentices is interest free is also misleading.

    "In that they never mention the fact that the loan is only interest free for the period of the apprenticeship and that once the apprentice finished training and begins to pay off the loan, the loan will in fact accumulate interest."

    The Department of Employment and Social Development Canada told CBC News on Monday the loan is interest-free for a certain period of time.

    "Canada apprentice loans are interest-free until apprentices complete or leave their apprenticeship training program, up to a maximum of six years. At that time, interest begins to accrue but repayment is not required for another six months."

    The NDP critic said this isn't the first time the government has spent public funds to advertise "misleading" information.

    The government quietly adjusted its labour data last May after the Globe and Mail reported that a claim of rising job shortages contained in budget documents was based on a problematic software program.

    Global News also reported that the government pulled an ad in August 2013 that promoted a jobs grant that did not yet exist following multiple complaints alleging it was misleading.

    The government spent approximately $2.5 million to promote the Canada Job Grant before the provinces ever agreed to the program.

    Janet Feasby, the vice-president of Advertising Standards Canada, said she could not comment on any complaint filed with the agency as the council treats all complaints in a confidential manner.

    She explained that once a complaint is received, the agency will contact the advertiser and give them 10 working days to respond to the complaint. 

    A ruling will generally come within three to four weeks after a complaint is received, as the council usually meets once a month.

    Only advertisers found to have contravened the code of advertising standards have their names posted on the watchdog's website.

    If an advertiser withdraws or amends an ad before the complaint is heard by the council, then the name of the advertiser is not made public.

    The government told CBC News that ESDC consulted Advertising Standards Canada before airing the ads and verified that "requirements under the Canadian Code of Advertising Standards were met."

    Feasby could not confirm that citing a confidential process.

    Read the text of the Canada apprentice loan ad:

    "Investing in Canada's infrastructure creates jobs and benefits hard-working families.

    Over the next decade, one million skilled tradesmen and women will be needed to keep Canada's growing economy strong.

    Starting January, the new interest-free Canada apprentice loan will offer up to $4,000 for a period of Red Seal technical training to help you complete your apprenticeship.

    To learn more about support for apprentices including grants and tax credits visit Canada.ca/apprentice.

    A message from the government of Canada." 


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