Canada’s leading political parties are forgetting the mantra that elections are all about one thing: "It’s the economy, stupid.”
They’re treating us all as dimwits in this federal election campaign by failing to take the economy seriously.
The economy underpins everything government does – from health care and social programs to spending on national parks and defence. Without a healthy economy, Ottawa would be hard-pressed to pay for any of these things.
Unfortunately, the platforms of the Liberals, Conservatives and NDP get a failing grade in Economics 101. Their policies are often incoherent, sometimes contradictory and generally lacking in a guiding philosophy.
The goal of making life more affordable, which features prominently in all three party platforms, isn’t an economic policy. Who doesn’t want to pay less for housing, food or clothing?
Affordability is a meaningless slogan. The reality is that it flows from a thriving economy, with people working and earning more, and companies growing.
Discussion about the major economic challenges facing the country, and how the leaders would deal with them, barely came up in last week’s televised English-language debate.
Oh sure, they talked about jobs, taxes, climate change and the middle class.
But that’s a long way from offering a credible plan to deal with such things as the costly transition to a lower-carbon-emission world, the aging profile of the population, the breakdown of the global trading order (and what that means for our relationships with the United States and China) and lagging business-productivity growth.
Andrew Scheer’s Conservatives didn’t even bother to release a fully costed party platform until less than two weeks before election day, just as many Canadians were preparing for the Thanksgiving long weekend. Perhaps Mr. Scheer is hoping people are too preoccupied to spot his plan’s glaring inconsistencies and lack of vision.
The Conservatives, for example, would scrap the carbon tax and eliminate the federal goods-and-services tax on home heating and electricity bills, creating new incentives for Canadians to increase greenhouse gas emissions. Meanwhile, they are also proposing a 20-per-cent tax credit for energy-saving home renovations.
So does Mr. Scheer want Canadians to consume more, or less, energy?
And his pledge to eliminate the deficit within five years is hard to square with a long list of expensive campaign promises, absent some pretty draconian spending cuts.
To their credit, the Liberals and NDP have had their platforms online for several weeks, although the NDP didn’t cost out its plan until Friday, either.
But that doesn’t make up for some serious deficiencies there, too.
The Liberal platform is long at 85 pages. But it isn’t a plan so much as an expensive compilation of goodies calculated to woo strategic blocks of voters. New measures in the Liberal platform would cost as much as $17-billion a year, including boosting Old Age Security payments for older seniors, a $600-a-year personal income-tax cut, lowering cellphone bills and a national infrastructure fund. Among the fund’s first priorities would be a fixed link (perhaps a rail tunnel) between Newfoundland and the remote Labrador coast, replacing a sparsely used ferry. The Liberals currently hold all seven seats in the province and dearly want to keep them.
Most worrying about the Liberal platform is that it assumes steadily rising tax revenues in the face of what almost certainly will be a slow-growth future. The International Monetary Fund warned last week that a “synchronized global slowdown” is coming, amid rising protectionism and lagging business investment.
Meanwhile, the NDP’s “New Deal for People,” at more than 100 pages, is a salute to a bygone era when unions and big manufacturers dominated the economic landscape. It calls for fostering a “Made-in-Canada” auto industry with increased subsidies for vehicle makers, measures to boost union membership and stricter controls on foreign investment.
All three parties are promising a smattering of tax changes. But none has articulated what they want the tax system to deliver for Canadians – beyond making life more affordable. Without a clear objective, tax relief merely deprives the government of revenue it needs to provide services.
Most troubling, perhaps, is that all three of the leading party leaders are spending precious little time talking about the daunting economic challenges this country will face in the next four years.
The times cry out for big thinking.
Instead, we’re getting costly platforms filled with little ideas.
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