It’s hard to fault the Conservatives for doing it – it’s their winning strategy: Make the economy the focus, while ensuring Canadians feel good about it. Be thankful, the message goes. Under us, you’re doing better than other nations.
The danger is that this serves as a smokescreen, that it paints too positive a picture, that it causes complacency. If Canada’s doing well compared with other well-functioning economies, it’s something to boast about. But if the barometer is basket cases, let’s not get out the pompoms. It’s no great measure of success.
The economies of several European countries and the United States have been in the tank. We’ve heard ad nauseam about the ravages of unemployment in the U.S. On balance, it makes us feel fortunate. But how much better are we doing? Their unemployment rate is 7.7 per cent; ours is 7.2 per cent. The difference is half a point.
The sorry state of others helps disguise Canada’s economic woes. It helps mask our low productivity, our weak innovation rate, our ever-growing national debt, a deep trade imbalance and unacceptable levels of inequality.
We have a manufacturing sector that’s in steady decline, leaving an economy overly dependent on staples and their price fluctuations. It’s chiefly our natural resource endowments that have helped us outperform others. Should we pat ourselves on the back for that? What country, blessed with such abundances, couldn’t have done the same?
Many of our problems have been long in the making and are not particular to this government. Others have been exacerbated by the current power-holders.
On climate change, this great green land has taken on the reputation (Liberal governments share the blame) of a black sheep. In regard to first nations, the acute adversities find little alleviation. On health care, systemic faults need to be addressed, but Ottawa is receding from the field of maintaining national standards, leaving it to the provinces to go their own ways. As for national unity, separatism isn’t the threat it once was, but Quebec’s sovereigntists are back in office.
The Conservatives initially made strides in rebuilding Canada’s armed forces. But owing to a deficit brought on in part by politically motivated GST cuts, the progress has halted. We left Afghanistan with our mission mostly unaccomplished. We now witness the F-35 muck-up.
On foreign affairs, our long-time open-minded country is now steering closer to a path of unilateralism. Our self-righteousness is striking, and we’ve become a United Nations basher.
The Conservatives’ push for free-trade deals is commendable. But in how many other areas is backwardness evident? While other jurisdictions move progressively on criminal justice, we renew our emphasis on incarceration. While other jurisdictions move to decriminalize soft drugs, we maintain a war on them.
Immigration reform was overdue and is being well-pursued. But in too many other ways, the government appears intent on fashioning a more closed and conformist society. Information has never been so controlled, and agencies are far too often censored for any departure from the governing ideology.
If the state of our union is measured in terms of the state of our democracy, then we’re in a sorry state. The examples of abuse of process – the latest being the omnibus or Trojan horse bills – and disdain for parliamentary democracy could fill a volume.
As we begin 2013, we may be doing better than others in several indices of economic performance. But it’s no time for Canadian complacency. As the broader record shows, this country is far from top of the class.