Canadians Look for Some Hope and Ambition
By Ralph Goodale
Member of Parliament for Wascana
Since his campaign promise in 2011 to benefit primarily wealthier Canadians through an Income Splitting scheme "just as soon as the federal budget is balanced", Stephen Harper has focused all of his economic attention in that one direction.
The push for Income Splitting has trumped every other policy possibility. For example, important services for veterans have been sacrificed, including the timely treatment of mental health issues. Public safety is another field that's been shortchanged - in rail, marine and air safety, search-and-rescue, emergency preparedness, environmental protection and food inspection. The list goes on.
$10-billion in community infrastructure investments got postponed. Defence department procurements have been delayed. Federal assets like community pastures across the prairies and the historic tree farm at Indian Head, Sk., have been unceremoniously dumped. Forensic labs, immigration offices, trade services, National Parks - they've all been hit. And employment insurance payroll taxes were inflated and are now frozen at artificially high levels.
What was all this for? To position Mr. Harper to claim a surplus so he could impose Income Splitting. As the late Jim Flaherty warned, it's a costly scheme at $2-billion every year, and it's unfair because 85% of Canadian households won't gain a cent. And it does absolutely nothing to stimulate more growth or better employment.
That is Canada's biggest economic challenge - a growth rate that is far too mediocre, compounded by a federal government that is far too complacent and unambitious.
In a thoughtful essay published just yesterday, Canada's first Parliamentary Budget Officer, Kevin Page, noted our economy is just "muddling along" and he made a number of crucial observations:
* "...the Canadian economy is not firing on all cylinders and we are failing to address major long-term issues..."
* "...median after-tax incomes for all families (or real GDP per capita) has been virtually flat since 2007..."
* "...Why are we taking resources out of federal labour market training at a time of weak employment..."
* "...faster growth is going to require higher investment rates and sustainable public finances..."
* "...The austerity approach set out in the 2012 federal budget will succeed in generating a balanced budget, but at a cost: slower growth and degraded public services like support for veterans..."
Our country can and should aim so much higher than Mr. Harper's mediocrity. He holds us back.
Instead of Income Splitting, Canadians would be further ahead with a vigorous plan for investments in community infrastructure and housing; post-secondary learning and skills; research and innovation; smart, clean sustainable energy and resource development; a diversified, more value-added economy; and aggressive global branding and marketing to rebuild a consistent trade surplus for Canada.
These are some of the elements of a better growth agenda - with hope, ambition and hard work, we can regain our economic momentum and rebuild that legitimate expectation of progress among Canadians, from one generation to the next.