What ever happened to Canadian government for all Canadians? Clearly out the window. Whatever happened to non-partisan politics? Has there ever been such a thing? Do we really need an economic stimulus package, or is the recent uproar in the House of Commons little more than partisan on partisan? Will a coalition government serve the people well? Is democracy being put to the test?
Well, it's not much, but technically an increase in newspaper sales should cause an increase in GDP, and if one opens the paper it's hard not to imagine an increase in newspaper sales. Far fetched? Maybe, but in the absence of any substantial economic stimulus, inflated media revenues are the only stimulus we are going to see, at least until late January.
Like many Canadians, in an attempt to isolate the real issue from the politicking, I'm asking myself do we really need an economic stimulus? According to the OECD (recently the most written about economic forecasts,) Canada's economic growth is going to slow by .5% in 2009, yet this still leaves the economy expanding by roughly .5%.
Unemployment is forecast to increase to 7.5% by 2010. Yes, a recessionary trend, but 7.5% is not far above the current rate of 6.4%. In addition, a more prudent Canadian banking sector, with less leveraged lending criteria, and a housing market that saw less of the subprime mortgage debacle, has helped Canada to dodge a direct hit from the credit crisis bullet. In fact, comparatively, economic conditions in Canada are looking stable. Stable enough that any fall out in the economy is likely a function of a global recession.
Add to this the fact that many conservatives argue precautionary increases in money supply have been met already with recent cuts to corporate and personal taxes, and rational minds have to conclude any package is in fact proactive and could perhaps wait until the end of January, without dire consequence (which it will have to do.)
The above being said, there are counter arguments (and plenty of them!) In general these arguments highlight the potential for a greater than anticipated economic slow down and suggest that, in reasonable quantities, an economic stimulus package will do more good than harm. Here are a few pro-recession arguments:
Canada is an exporting country with some 75% percent of our exports going south of the border; consequently, the major US recession is expected to slow the real demand for our exports. In addition, falling commodity prices are expected to hamper corporate earnings and the popular notion that the U.S. dollar is overvalued, suggests any correction is likely to drive up the Loony, putting further pressure on corporate direct and administrative expenses.
Truly the forestry sector is on the ropes and though no injection of capital is going to increase sales to the U.S., any...and I do mean ANY stimulus will staunch the current and expected decline in contractor revenues, decrease in wages, job less and resulting to damage to communities nation wide. In like terms, Ontario auto makers are anticipating job loss, to the tune of 15,000 jobs and 3.1 billion dollars of income statement damage (that's red ink spelled d.e.f.i.c.i.t,) over a two year period. Further, there is the query that if competitive industries internationally are receiving stimulus, does this put Canadian industry at a disadvantage?
And in response to the notion that a stimulus package has already been put in place, there is the argument that hack-sawed corporate balance sheets will send capital budget specialists into capital rationing mode and potential declines in housing market values (not declines prompted from over-zealous high risk mortgage lending, as in the states, but presumably demand side declines as global economic confidence recedes) will keep personal savings in the bank. Yep, last years tax cuts might increase the quantity of money, but will they increase it enough to increase consumption? The logic follows that, should a stimulus package be put into place why not put it into place right now?
As a Liberal, I'll let you know I agree. It seems to me the upside of a stimulus package outweighs the downside (potential for inflation.) Let's stimulate the economy and let's do it straight away. However, given I would like to call myself a rational Canadian, I want to point to the idea that maybe the current political crisis is not about economic stimulus at all. Maybe it's about duty? Maybe it's about partisan politics? Maybe it's about transparency?
It seems that, with respect to the lack of confidence in the house, the real issue here is a partisan one--did Stephen Harper and crew abuse their power and avoid their duties by trying to slide a fast ball past the Canadian people? What was the reason behind proposing a union wage limitation of 1.5% over the next 3 years? How about the reason behind axing the right for political parties to access government funds?
Media responses by Canadians country wide suggest the answers to the above two questions are clear--the fast ball was aimed at shoring up a future majority and the wage fixing is an attempt at gaining the upper hand in the age old battle between corporate oligarch and unionized labor. Yep, sneaky, under handed partisan politicking---expected, but timely?
The very nature of a minority government demands that the governing party maintain the confidence of the rest of the house. The fact that the Harper administration failed to do this and that, in response to the attack on opposition funding, drove the divided Liberals, NDP and Bloc to overcome their differences and attempt to topple the government, can be seen as evidence that democracy, as it is known in our constitutionally monarchist parliamentary system, is being served correctly.
Further, as was noted by Michael Ignatieff several times last week, it is the duty of a leading party, in a divided house and in a time of potential economic instability and uncertainty, to put forth clear centrist policies that address the concerns of the majority of Canadians, while inspiring confidence in the house. In this sense it's clear that Stephen Harper and crew failed in their duties to lead all Canadians in times of economic uncertainty and have, in as much, brought down the house.
On the other hand, though it is the function of an opposition to fight for what's in the best interest of their respective constituencies (our country voted 60% in favor of leftist government policy makers,) Jack Layton, Stephan Dione and Gilles Duceppe have done what amounts to little more than the same thing. Attempting to topple the government at a time when we need strong leadership and stability (the TSX dropped 9% on the news of government unrest) is clearly an equally poorly timed partisan tactic.
So, it seems both sides had their part to play in this fiasco. And in times of such turmoil we are lucky we can look to our Queen. Michaelle Jean (our Queen's representative) has done what she thought best by granting prorogue and suspending parliament until the end of January. I for one am grateful she has exercised modesty, grace and wisdom and brought stability to the government.
Now we must look to the future. We need time to consider what the best course of action is. We need to identify the higher road, to rise above petty partisanship. We need to choose between the lesser of two evils: a coalition government that will be led by the man who was undoubtedly the least popular person in the most recent election, which may have difficulty overcoming substantial differences in policy to govern effectively without taking blame for downturns that are likely to arise regardless of leadership, and a group who have shown a willingness to do whatever it takes to maintain power and thwart the opposition, morality, honor, and integrity aside.
Personally, I value transparency, respect for the law and respect for all Canadians (and indeed all honorable people the world over) more than effective manipulation and autocratic leadership. And, in as much, I hope we Liberals can put together a team that is patient and prudent enough to deliver strong centrist leadership (I will mention Mr. Ignatieff again) because it seems certain the conservatives will continue to spare no efforts spinning the truth with rampant partisan politicking in hopes of confusing Canada and maintaining the power they have so recently abused.