You can bet your bottom dollar that Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Speech from the Throne on October 16 will assert repeatedly that his government is “focused on jobs and growth”. But just saying it doesn’t make it true. In fact, Mr. Harper has the worst economic growth record since the dismal days of R.B. Bennett.
When he first took power in 2006, he was handed a steadily growing economy which had generated 3.5 million net new jobs, declining debt and taxes, a decade of balanced budgets, annual surpluses at about $13-billion, and fiscal flexibility projected ahead five years totalling $100-billion. That’s what Mr. Harper had to work with – the most robust fiscal situation in the western world. And he blew it in less than three years.
He over-spent by three-times the rate of inflation. He eliminated all the financial shock absorbers that had been built into Canada’s budgetary framework to protect against adverse events. And he put this country back into deficit again – a structural deficit – BEFORE (not because of) the recession which arrived in late 2008.
It’s now four full years since the recession ended, and still our national economy remains sluggish and uncertain with vast disparities among different regions, sectors and demographic groups.
In response, this government has only one monotonous and ineffectual prescription – austerity, austerity and more austerity. To fix (or at least camouflage) his structural deficit, for example, Mr. Harper took a slice out of future funding for healthcare and old-age pensions.
Beyond plain incompetence – as exposed in the bungled and deceitful F-35 fighter-jet fiasco, among others – Mr. Harper’s basic problem is having no credible plan for economic growth. You cannot hack-and-slash your way to prosperity.
Mr. Harper is quick to claim that Canada has more growth than some countries, like Spain. But we’re not doing better than many others, like Australia, New Zealand, Norway or even the United States.
Canadians are weary of the grinding mediocrity that characterizes the Harper regime. We’re constantly told to lower our expectations, settle for less. And a big part of that burden falls on Canada’s middle-class. That’s just not good enough.
It’s time for a government that will be on Canadians’ side, encouraging us to be hopeful and ambitious once again – about our own prospects and about the future of our country.
Ralph Goodale, deputy leader
Liberal Party of Canada