Economic mediocrity not good enough for Canada

Today, the Conservatives had an opportunity to change course and finally begin addressing the serious challenges facing middle class Canadians. They could have chosen to use the fall economic update to recognize record-high levels of household debt and the lack of economic opportunity for young Canadians.

Instead, for the past eight years, Stephen Harper has squandered Canada’s fiscal strength and undermined our capacity to address middle class needs.

Mr. Harper has escalated federal government spending to an all-time record high in excess of $280-billion annually. He has run six consecutive deficits, adding some $160-billion to accumulated federal debt and pushing Canada’s debt burden to an all-time record high of more than $620-billion.

Canada’s debt-to-GDP ratio is no better than when he first took office nearly eight years ago — even though the recession (which he blames for everything) ended more than four years ago. He recently postponed his target for any significant debt-ratio improvement until 2021.

Among the things for which Mr. Harper is increasing his spending is the grossly misleading government advertising — all those irritating “economic action plan” TV ads, for example. Just 30-seconds of air-time for just one of those commercials costs taxpayers close to $100,000!

He is also heavily promoting his so-called “jobs grant” mentioned in the last federal Budget. He would like you to think he has a credible plan to expand employment and training. Trouble is, the grant program he’s advertising doesn’t exist. It’s beyond federal jurisdiction. There’s not a penny of new federal money for it. It would have to be negotiated with provinces. And all of the provinces have already rejected it. So both the plan and the advertising are a complete scam.

Mr. Harper is also increasing government spending on his political machine. The budget for his own office, for instance, is going up by more than 7%, while programs and services for war veterans and wounded soldiers are being cut by more than 20%.

On another front, Mr. Harper likes to promote the fiction that he doesn’t raise taxes. But, in fact, he has increased the net federal tax burden on Canadians in each of his last four budgets. It happens in dozens of nefarious ways, which he hopes you won’t notice — like a new federal tax on hospital parking fees and an extra $75-million every year in higher incomes taxes taken from Credit Unions.

And there have been several very large tax increases — $3.6-billion extracted from employers and employees over the past three years in higher Employment Insurance payroll taxes, $333-million every year on-going in higher tariff taxes on consumer goods, and $550-million per year in new taxes on the owners of small businesses.

Most of these new and higher Conservative taxes directly hit and hurt Canada’s middle-class and all those who are working hard to join the middle-class. But Mr. Harper remains oblivious to their needs.

And finally, there’s the crucial issue of economic growth. It has stalled under Stephen Harper. As mentioned above, the recession ended more than four years ago, but Canada’s growth remains slow and sluggish, falling behind a number of OECD countries with whom we must compete. Domestically, Mr. Harper’s growth record is, in fact, the worst of any Prime Minister since R.B. Bennett. And he has no plan to get any better.

Such mediocrity is just not good enough for Canada.

Ralph Goodale, M.P.

Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party of Canada