A hard look at Harper's economic record

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When the next federal election rolls around, likely next spring, Stephen Harper says he wants to campaign on his economic record. Well bring it on.

That record is highlighted by some spectacular failures.

Military procurement is one of them — specifically the proposed acquisition of F-35 stealth fighter jets to replace Canada’s aging CF-18s. The botched process started in 2006 and is still nowhere near completion. The plane isn’t even operational and costs have ballooned from $9-billion to close to $50-billion. The Parliamentary Budget Officer and the Auditor General have depicted the management of this file as both incompetent and deceitful.

The Temporary Foreign Workers Program is another big Harper government screw-up. That program operated with decent success for more than 30 years until the Conservatives messed it up with glaring instances of sloppy administration, lax enforcement, depressed wages, displaced Canadian workers and mistreated foreigners. The government’s proposed corrections have infuriated both employers and employees, both domestic and foreign.

Another example of the Harper regime failing to get big economic things right is pipelines. A fundamental role of the Government of Canada is to open up markets abroad for Canadian resources and help create responsible and sustainable ways to get those resources to those markets. In the case of western Canadian energy products, we’re suffering multi-billion dollar price penalties every year because Mr. Harper has failed to move the yardsticks a single inch forward on any major pipeline project since he first took power nearly nine years ago.

He also failed on western grain handling and transportation. The grain system Mr. Harper imposed didn’t have enough capacity, nor any surge capability, nor any provision for adverse circumstances (like bad weather). There was no coordination, no transparency, no accountability, no competition, and no realistic legal recourse for captive shippers. Millions of tonnes of grain got stranded. Frustrated global customers just walked away. Mr. Harper’s system cost farmers something over $5-billion last year.

On trade policy more generally, the Conservatives boast about the number of trade deals they’re working on. But only six are fully concluded and implemented, and together they represent just 2% of global GDP. The bigger ones are the better part of a decade away from fruition. And there remains a big difference between just signing deals and actually increasing the trade that gets done. For most of Mr. Harper’s term, Canada has suffered large trade deficits, a situation the Bank of Canada has described as a “serial disappointment”.

On fiscal management, in 2006 Mr. Harper inherited a decade of balanced budgets with annual surpluses of some $13-billion and financial flexibility over the ensuing five years projected at close to $100-billion. But in less than three years, he blew this country’s fiscal security. He overspent by three times the rate of inflation and eliminated all the contingency reserves and prudence factors that had protected Canada against unforeseen trouble. Thus, Mr. Harper put us back into the red again BEFORE, not because of, the recession that arrived in late 2008.

That reckless mismanagement caused the burden of the recession to be much greater than it needed to be. More that $160-billion in new federal debt — Harper debt — was created. That’s close to $20,000 in new Harper debt for every Canadian family.

At the bottom line, close to 240,000 more Canadians are out of a job and looking for work today than before the recession. Five years on, Canada’s economy remains weak and uncertain. Stephen Harper has produced the poorest economic growth results of any Prime Minister since R.B. Bennett in the 1930’s.

Yes, bring it on. It would be a pleasure to campaign on Mr. Harper’s economic record.

Ralph Goodale

Regina, SK

Organizations: Conservatives, Bank of Canada

Geographic location: Canada

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