Monday, October 06, 2008

Economic Platforms Discussed

I didn't think the stock market could tank any further, but it did, bouncing back just a little at the end of the day. No Black Friday yet... Still, Stephen Harper felt our concern enough before it got really bad that he insisted that more of the debates last week ought to be devoted to the economy. He wanted more time than the broadcasters finally agreed to; and so you'd think he'd have had lots to say about it. Unfortunately, when all was said and done, Harper had little to contribute beyond it's just a stock market problem, it won't affect jobs or mortgages. I wonder why he wanted so much time when he had so little to say?

For me, the Conservative party's economic plan can be summed up in two phrases:
"Don't invest in Ontario." Jim Flaherty, ex Finance Minister of the former Conservative government of Ontario that screwed up our economy and put infrastructure rebuilding back decades.

"Don't worry. It's just the stock market." Stephen Harper, Prime Minister of Canada as American manufacturers like GM pull back into the US as their economy nosedives.
In the absence of a platform until tomorrow -- why so late? really odd -- there's not much more one can say about the Conservative's economic platform. As any right-wing government does, they believe that tax cuts stimulate the economy, that government tends to mis-spend funds and thus they make spending cuts in some areas while increasing spending in others, that the private sector works better than the public. They believed our surplus was bloated and sought to bring it down while paying off the debt, thus reducing interest payments. The latter is important because the more that government money goes towards paying interest, the less there is to spend on important things like health and infrastructure. In just two years, the Conservatives have reduced the surplus to just about zero. If it's true that tax cuts power up the economy and create jobs, then it would stand to reason that more taxes would have flowed into Ottawa. If true, then the zero balance means that either the Conservatives seriously increased spending or tax cuts didn't do what they're supposed to. Just a personal note here: I like paying less GST. It made a difference to me. But my spending didn't create jobs; it just made it easier for me to make purchases I needed to make anyway.

The interesting thing about the mantra that right wing governments know how to manage the economy well and left wing governments screw it up is that it's the right wing governments that without fail create or drive up deficits. Witness the Brian Mulroney government that created a record deficit and the Harper government skating close to the thin line, and in the US, the governments before and after Bill Clinton's. It was the so-called left wing governments in Canada and the US that slayed the deficit and created a surplus -- Jean Chretien here, Clinton in the US.

Anyone who believes that right wingers are superior money managers have very, very bad short-term memory problems.

The Greens don't have a left-wing economic platform. But they do see the positive potential of moving Canada towards the green economy more aggressively than Harper (is he encouraging any green tech??). The Greens understand that Canadian knowledge, education, and entrepruenuerial spirit holds a wealth of economic stimulus for Canada that we can export to other countries. Encouraging that instead of propping up old tech, is a good thing.

The Greens explain their platform in sentences and paragraphs and complete ideas, not sound bites and outlines like I'm used to seeing. They actually have a vision. Strange to think of an economic platform, usually about dull numbers or brief statements, as being visionary. They see the "biggest business opportunity in human history" as "the shift to a low-carbon economy." Their platform is so comprehensive that it's too much reading for me. I suggest that if you're seriously interested in a truly new approach and want to understand our economy better, you ought to grab a cup of coffee, turn on your laptop, and load it up.

The Liberals point out the mess they cleaned up and the green state of the economy they left when tossed out of office. The only thing is that it was the cities and provinces that bore the brunt of those severe spending cuts that led to the Liberal surpluses, and now the sacrificial lambs of infrastructure, basic city services, and Ontario's economy are hemorraghing badly. The Conservatives did nothing to staunch the flow when they came into power, and our Ontario economy is tanking as a result.

Manufacturing provides value-added benefits, more than resource-only jobs do. To maintain Canada's economic sovereignty we need to keep jobs here, in Canadian hands, jobs that keep our resources in Canada so as to manufacture them into higher-priced goods that we can then export. The selling of our companies and the loss of manufacturing jobs that Harper and Flaherty have shrugged their shoulders at -- Harper claiming during the debate that job loss is not an issue, it's just the stock market -- is a serious problem.

So what will the Liberals do? They rightly note that an economy based on "knowledge, ingenuity, and innovation" and a green tech one is a good thing. They will invest $1 billion in a fund to "promote greener, more competitive manufacturing sector." They'll cut personal and business taxes and shift the tax burden to the polluting sector. Although Harper claims that taxing pollution is an untried system, he's wrong. Sweden went that way almost two decades ago and is thriving. But if we want this new method of taxation to work, all three levels of government need to work together. Most of us live in cities; cities have large economies and are large consumers of carbon-based fuels; provinces have jurisdiction over areas like health care that contribute hugely to pollution; and Ontario in particular is the home of much of the manufacturing sector that the carbon tax is supposed to stimulate in a new direction. Read the Green's economic plan to understand more fully the Liberals' outline of their platform.

The New Democratic Party will "act on the priorities of the kitchen table." What is the kitchen table? Being able to buy food, pay for housing, cover transportation costs, have access to public transit, get good schooling for the kids, have good health care for everyone, have good books to read, a free media to grouse over, and escapism on the TV, to name a few.

The NDP's platform focuses on jobs. As an aside, I'd like to say being unable to earn an income sucks the joy out of life, the confident feeling that exercised competence gives you, ability to pay for necessities and impossible to pay for things that bring happiness and fun. Harper's dismissal of the pain that joblessness brings by saying that we're gaining net jobs and so the loss of jobs in Ontario don't matter much, is pretty appalling when coming from a leader of an entire country. The massive loss of jobs here should have brought encouraging words from our Prime Minister, who's supposed to be above regionalism and partisanship, not the dismissive pissed-at-losing-the-provincial-election sniping of Flaherty. Jack Layton does get this fundamental fact of a human being in Canada -- the need to work.

The NDP will look at gas prices and cell phone gouging, two big annoyances the Harper government has failed to resolve. They will encourage innovation, especially in the green sector. They will bring the federal government back into affordable housing. (It's only since the Chretien government started hacking at the deficit, including cutting housing, that homelessness rose dramatically and became such a blight in our cities and in these peoples' lives.)

The interesting thing about reading the parties' economic platforms -- except for the Conservatives, for which I relied on what Harper said in the debates -- is that all the parties except for the Conservatives talk about the need to shift the focus of government towards creating jobs in the green sector, of reducing pollution and in using that reduction to create new jobs. It's like the industrial revolution, when so many people lost their old livelihoods, but so many more went into new manufacturing sectors. It was a time of great upheaval. What got people through it was the courage to face the future, not to tread water.

Again we're in a time of great upheaval. Staying the course is not going to cut it anymore. Canada is the only country not talking massive bailouts, that's how good our banking system is. Our former leaders made good decisions that we're profiting from now. We don't need a leader that follows the herd of other governments -- if we'd had that years ago, we'd be in the mess Britain, Germany, and US are in now, to name just three. We need a leader that understands where the future economy will be and leads us that way, away from the herd.

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