A little more on elections, economics and budgets

Lana Payne
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Don’t get me wrong, I love the “rise-up Canada” anthem coming from Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff in the last days of this campaign. It is right up there with Jack Layton’s attack on corporate tax cuts to big banks and big corporations.

Like so many Canadians, I agree that democracy has taken a hit from the Harper Conservatives and that corporations have too much power and say than is healthy in a democracy, but I also think this federal government should be challenged more on its so-called economic record.

We have all heard the message track about how great Canada is doing economically compared to the rest of the world and how well we are faring coming out of the global economic and financial crisis.

The Harper Conservatives have been taking credit for Canada’s so-called economic recovery and they have been successful in creating — or buying through taxpayer-funded advertising — this storyline for themselves.

But on so many levels, it is just a story.

First of all, the Harper Conservatives, left to their own devices or a majority, would have deregulated banks and the financial sector.

The fact that we had a tightly regulated banking sector had nothing to do with Stephen Harper. It was former Prime Minister Jean Chretien who said no to the pressures to deregulate banks and the financial sector — listening to the considerable pressure from progressive forces in society.

Then, in 2008, when the rest of the world was rolling out stimulus measures to deal with a crisis created by the greed of the global financial sector, Stephen Harper and his finance minister, Jim Flaherty, refused to admit there was a crisis. Strong economic managers? I think not.

It was not until they almost lost power and were forced by the opposition parties and the multitude of voices in our democracy that we finally got an “economic action plan.” 

But make no mistake, this was a stimulus program the Harper Conservatives delivered grudgingly. That hasn’t stopped them from touting its benefits with the help of over $130 million in taxpayer-financed advertising.

And now to listen to Harper and Flaherty, you’d think Canada was doing better than the whole rest of the world because of them.

Wow, aren’t they amazing! They are also full of political spin — the same spin that says corporate tax cuts create jobs when so much evidence says otherwise.

Economist Jim Stanford has explained that it’s not just political spin. It’s also factually untrue. Recent analysis by Stanford shows that in 2009 — the year we were in a full recession with the rest of the world — Canada was actually 61st out of 107 countries who reported real GDP growth to the International Monetary Fund’s statistics branch. For the first three quarters of 2010, Canada was 25th out of the 53 countries reporting this data on a quarterly basis.

With respect to an improving unemployment rate, Canada also was not the best, but rather less than mediocre. In 2009, we were 56th out of 72 countries according to international data and in 2010 we were 28th.

When you compare Canada’s economic performance with other counties that did not have bank failures — in other words when we compare apples with apples — Canada’s performance has been subpar, according to Stanford.

Subpar is not exactly in the category of bragging rights, unless of course, your storyline involves a healthy dose of fiction.

With just nine days to go in this election, we could use a little more economic truth and a lot less fiction.

And provincially …

A couple of points about the provincial budget — although it deserves an entire column or two. Child care and early learning are critically important to the future of our province. What we got in this budget was disappointing.

On the bright side: the premier and the minister responsible for this area, Charlene Johnson, have said this is a priority. Now we need to make it happen. The priority must finally be turned into action.

We are already at a crisis point. It is no longer about what’s good for our children (although that should be reason enough). It’s no longer about what’s good for advancing women’s equality. It’s no longer about supporting working parents. This is now about our future economic growth — growth that will be dependent on a skilled, trained and educated workforce who will demand high-quality and affordable child care. Smart business leaders know this too.

What is incredibly frustrating for those who have for years been advocating for this as a support for economic growth and working parents, as a pillar to advancing women’s equality and children’s development is the relatively tiny new investment dedicated to this critically important area.

Yet the budget was once again full of goodies for the business sector — tax cuts, tax credits, business attraction funds. And still the chorus of complaints from some business organizations was enough to turn even the most cast-iron of stomachs.

It’s never enough. Corporate profits as a share of our provincial gross domestic product continue to soar at 2.5 times the national average.

Yet the share of our GDP going to wages and salaries has been steadily declining since 1999.

We have done more than enough to make this a good place to do business.

It’s time to focus on making it a good place to live, raise a family and work. We can’t do that without high-quality, affordable early learning and child care.

Lana Payne is president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour. She can be reached by email at lanapayne@nl.rogers.com. Her column returns May 7.

Organizations: Harper Conservatives, International Monetary Fund, Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour

Geographic location: Canada

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Recent comments

  • Taxpayer
    April 23, 2011 - 10:52

    The most overlooked help to our econmy in 2008 and 2009 was the increase in mortgage terms to 40 years. This allowed people who couldn't otherwise afford them to buy a home and this created profits for real estate agents and others. It also allowed people to borrow more on existing mortgages to buy more things and this helped the economy. But and it is a big but, in the Uuited States this type of pumping the economy finally came back to hurt them after 2006. So when interest rates start going up this summer Canadians should look south is see our future.