Pierre Poilievre has sunk his teeth into a hot economic issue, inflation, and the Conservative Party’s shadow finance minister can point to a cost of living that is rising at a rate Canadians haven’t seen for years. But he still insists on stretching facts to push his point.
There’s always a certain amount of spin in the cut and thrust of partisan politics. And the Conservatives are so excited that inflation has given them a useful political cudgel after weeks of internal bickering and flailing over vaccinations that they are letting their cost-of-living rhetoric get inflated.
On Monday, Conservative MP Rob Morrison said in the House of Commons that Canada was experiencing hyperinflation – a label that fits when inflation is 10 times Canada’s current 4.7-per-cent rate.
Then there is Mr. Poilievre. He is a big presence, blustery House performer, and many Conservatives will tell you he’s the best one they have. He needles ministers. He treats partisan politics like combat. And sometimes the facts get lost in the fog of war.
That’s not the province of one party: An edited video of Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole tweeted by Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland during the election campaign was labelled by Twitter as “manipulated.”
But it’s still worth noting that in his zeal to make his case on inflation – essentially, that large Liberal deficits caused it – Mr. Poilievre has breezily bent facts past the breaking point, notably by asserting that Canada has run the largest budget deficit in the Group of 20, and that Canada’s inflation rate is far higher than all its peers except the U.S.
That’s not a question of economic theories, or how much to blame Justin Trudeau. Plenty of economists insist that most of the inflation we are experiencing is caused by supply-chain disruptions, but Mr. Poilievre argues that only expansions of the money supply cause inflation. He is not the first person to warn against governments running budget deficits financed by the expansion of the central bank’s balance sheet, nor the first to refer to that as “printing money,” even if that expression is inaccurate. That’s debate. His claim that his criticism of quantitative easing is not a comment on monetary policy is unfathomable, but let’s call that spin.
It’s something else when he claims that Canada ran the highest deficit in the G20 last year. That is not correct.
It is Mr. Poilievre who insists that is important. At a news conference last week, a reporter asked if Mr. Poilievre was questioning the value of pandemic benefits, which made up the bulk of the deficit.
“You know who also had COVID?” Mr. Poilievre asked in reply. “The other 19 countries in the G20 who had lower deficits than Canada. G20 countries – we had the biggest single deficit last year, as a share of GDP.”
But that’s not so. Canada ran a large deficit, but not the largest in the G20 – as a share of GDP it was smaller than the G20 average, according to the International Monetary Fund.
Mr. Poilievre, astonishingly, insisted to reporters that he was right, because in the middle of the year, the IMF projected that Canada’s deficit would be the largest – a projection it later revised to keep abreast of the figures.
It hardly seems worth the trouble of misrepresenting those stats. Nobody needs to be convinced Canada’s 2020-21 deficit – $354-billion – was big. People feel inflation. The opposition has a lot to work with.
Yet Mr. Poilievre also goes out of his way to insist that Canada’s inflation is running at a pace far beyond other countries, except the U.S. “France, Italy, Germany, Japan, and the U.K. all have much lower inflation rates than Canada. Only the United States, which is printing money like crazy, has a higher inflation rate,” he said last week.
Much lower? At the time, Britain’s reported inflation rate of 4.2 per cent and Germany’s 4.5 per cent were not much lower than Canada’s. (Since then, Germany reported consumer prices rose at an annual rate of 6 per cent.) Inflation in the euro zone was 4.1 per cent. The U.S. and Canada’s other USMCA partner, Mexico, both had inflation over 6 per cent.
Obviously, Mr. Poilievre is trying to bolster an argument that Canada’s inflation is unique. You’d think it would be counterproductive to make that argument with factual claims that don’t hold water – unless you think such things just don’t matter.
For subscribers: Get exclusive political news and analysis by signing up for the Politics Briefing.