OTTAWA – POLITICS – This is my first column of 2015 so please accept my best wishes for you and yours this New Year. Unfortunately, 2015 will be a difficult one for millions of Canadians as our economy is suddenly on the brink of a severe economic downturn due to the risky and irresponsible economic policies of Stephen Harper’s Conservatives.
This past week was one of the worst in Canada’s economic history. It was so bad that in one 24-hour period Canada lost 20,000 jobs. Between Wednesday evening and Thursday evening Sony announced it was closing 14 stores and eliminating 100 positions, energy companies Shell and Suncor announced 300 and 1,000 job cuts respectively, clothing retailer MEXX announced the closing of all of its Canadian stores causing another 1,800 job losses, and mega-retailer Target announced that it was closing its 133 stores and throwing 17,700 Canadians out of work. One economist noted that the Target announcement alone represented the second largest number of job losses caused by a single event behind the collapse of the Atlantic Cod Fishery in 1992.
So how on earth did we get here? From the start of Confederation until the last decade Canadians gradually built up a balanced national economy. Our Atlantic provinces developed the fishing, tourism, and shipbuilding industries. Quebec and Ontario were built upon the manufacturing, forestry, and financial services industries. Manitoba and Saskatchewan relied on agriculture, energy, and tourism. British Columbia’s economy grew primarily through forestry, mining, finance and trade. And then there is Alberta. Since the 1950’s Alberta has been dependent almost solely upon the prospects of the oil industry. These diverse regional economies made our national economy strong and stable since a decline in one or more industries or regions were usually offset by gains in others. This was the case for more than a century until Stephen Harper came to power.
With his single minded and risky pursuit of the ‘Albertan Dream,’ Mr. Harper’s economic policies created the perfect economic conditions for Canada’s worst nightmare. From the day they came to power the Harper Conservatives set out to make Canada an “Energy Superpower,” which roughly translated meant that they were putting all of our economic eggs into one basket; the energy sector. The Conservatives chose to give (not lend) more than $2 billion of our tax dollars each year to the largest and most profitable companies on the planet – Exxon, Shell, and Suncor – as an “incentive” for them to develop Alberta’s oil-sands, as if hundreds of billions in potential profit weren’t enough. They also lavished these companies with massive corporate tax cuts while increasing fees and reducing services for everyone else; from students to seniors and the unemployed to veterans.
Outside of Alberta’s oil patch Mr. Harper’s economic record is an absolute disaster. One need only look at what has happened to Ontario’s economy to realize this. The explosive growth in Alberta’s oil-sands pushed the value of the Canadian dollar higher and higher. When Stephen Harper came to power in January 2006 the Canadian Dollar was worth an average of $0.86 US Dollars. By April 2011 our dollar could purchase $1.06 US dollars, increasing in value more than 17% during this time. The booming oil industry could shrug off the high dollar, but the manufacturing, forestry, and tourism sectors saw the goods and services they were producing become 17% more expensive than those of their competitors.
From 2005 to 2011 Canada lost 104,000 forestry jobs (30.4% of all forestry jobs), with Northern Ontario alone losing 30,900 (34.2%) jobs. The Southern Ontario manufacturing sector was also devastated during this period. A Bank of Montreal report in 2012 estimated that Ontario had lost more than 500,000 manufacturing jobs (22% of all manufacturing jobs) during this same period. Every economist in Canada agrees that these jobs were lost because of the oil-juiced high Canadian dollar, and that these good paying jobs have been lost forever.
Mr. Harper likes to boast that he and his government are sound managers of Canada’s economy and finances, but the truth is that they will go down in history as one of the worst. His economic policies have permanently damaged our once balanced economy and cost us hundreds of thousands of good paying jobs while putting hundreds of thousands more at risk. With the collapse of oil prices Mr. Harper’s risky choice to bet Canada’s future on the oil patch has gone bust, and there is no ‘Plan B’ since the high dollar has devastated almost every other industry and region in Canada.
Mr. Harper and his political spin machine can say whatever they like about his record on the economy, but the fact is that it took his Conservative just 10 years to destroy the economic balance and security that took Canadians and their governments more than a century to create.
John Rafferty MP
Thunder Bay Rainy River