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NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh responds to a question during a news conference on the waterfront in Windsor, Ont., on Aug. 25, 2021.Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press

Canada’s political leaders aren’t running against each other in this summer election. The Liberals and Conservatives seem intent on stealing a page from the NDP playbook and running against big business.

While CEOs are staying silent, there’s real anger in corporate circles over yet another election campaign defined by populism, rather than any attempt at an informed debate over Canada’s economic policy.

After working with the government to deliver pandemic programs, bankers were stunned on Wednesday when Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau pledged that if re-elected, his government will hike taxes and levy new fees on banks and insurers, raising an extra $2.5-billion annually.

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Bank executives who worked hand-in-glove with the government to provide COVID-19 relief – granting $5.5-billion in mortgage flexibility, waiving $112-million in personal banking fees – felt betrayed by the Liberals’ move. Financial services leaders also know Mr. Trudeau’s plan is bad policy: Singling out specific sectors for special taxation is a proven detriment to economic growth.

Mr. Trudeau was simply raising the stakes on business bashing. Earlier in the week, the Conservatives’ Erin O’Toole announced a Tory government would require large, federally regulated companies to have worker representation on their boards. In announcing the concept, Mr. O’Toole said his party “will stand up for workers.” Close your eyes, and you can hear Jack Layton.

Right now, the moderate voice on economic issues belongs to NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, whose major business announcement this week was a pledge to make cellphone and internet service more affordable.

There’s a stark contrast between the populist policies rolling out from all three major national parties in the campaign for the Sept. 20 election, and the issues that bedevil Canada’s senior civil servants, including the folks running the Finance Department. Shortly before he became deputy minister of finance last December, former BCE Inc. chief executive officer Michael Sabia talked about the need for government to partner with business to kick-start the currently anemic economic growth.

“The country needs to be on a better growth trajectory,” Mr. Sabia said at the time; he’s since gone silent, as senior civil servants do not comment on election issues. He said: “Slow growth limits Canada’s choices. If we invest to fund growth, we trigger a virtuous circle. Our fiscal realities become easier to manage. And Canadians have more choices.”

Canadian companies, not governments, are the engines of economic growth. After listening to the Liberal, Tory and NDP leaders this week, CEOs are wondering when they became part of the problem, rather than the solution. The country’s largest businesses, including the banks and insurers, are global players. Raise taxes in this country and they’ll invest elsewhere for growth.

As this summer election campaign plays out, some voices are trying to raise the level of the debate and force politicians to address the economic issues that lured Mr. Sabia back into public service. Goldy Hyder, CEO of the Business Council of Canada, challenged political leaders to make this campaign about their vision for the country’s future.

“Canada’s economy faces a range of long-standing structural weaknesses,” Mr. Hyder said in an open letter to political leaders. “They include an aging population, lagging rates of private sector investment, an inefficient and unpredictable regulatory environment, and persistent skills shortages.”

To date, none of these big-picture issues are getting airplay in the campaign. Party leaders seem focused on pushing voters’ hot buttons by bashing banks, pandering to unions and complaining about cellphone bills. Mr. Hyder pointed out that the real debate should be over the Canada we want to build, as the pandemic accelerates the pace of change around the world.

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