Canada's short-term economic prospects are good, but the outlook, both medium and long-term, is another story.
That's because Canada's biggest competitive disadvantage are its politicians. Of course the problem of mediocre or damaging politicians are not unique to Canada, and afflicts most democracies, but this country's political operatives are a distinctly parochial and ignorant bunch for the most part when it comes to comprehending basic economic or business principles.
Most function like trust fund brats, lacking the mindset or skills to steward or protect the national endowment. They concentrate on spending, not making, investing or saving, money. They devote themselves to devising policies or assuming postures that put them in the limelight in order to win elections.
In that context, here's my political wish list for 2014:
1. Put the Canadian senate out of its misery. Four were caught behaving badly last year, three suspended without pay, police are involved and a bunch more have resigned. The senate is like an appendix attached to the body politic -- thoroughly useless but capable of causing great damage. The Red Chamber has always been an embarrassment in a democratic country, as is
the House of Lords or Monarchy. All these privileged positions are unearned.
2. Separatists should cease and desist their rhetoric until they win a referendum. By talking up separation, they continue to harm Quebec economically. Lately, they are ramping up again on the strength of one poll showing 44 per cent in favour even though it is hardly a mandate. Other recent polls have revealed considerably less support.
After decades of this pummelling, Canadians mostly tune out this stuff but the rest of the world doesn't, nor do Canada's rivals in the foreign direct investment sweepstakes. The result is that the separatists are not called out or shamed over their damage to Canada. For instance, at a recent conference attended by foreign investors, a Quebec official pitched the benefits of investing in Quebec then stated that the province's goal was to leave Canada. It was an eye-rolling deal breaker, equivalent to offering buyers a great table then promising that one leg would be removed after the purchase in future on a date to be determined.
3. Ignore the New Democrats at whatever level of government they surface. They are neither New nor Democrats. They are extremists who have imposed their wonky and outdated socialist policies wherever they've been able to fool enough voters into electing them to office.
4. Justin Trudeau must go. He's a self-declared "bookmark" candidate (for a "bookmark" party) whose only policy pledge thus far is to come up with policy pledges sometime in the future on a date to be determined. This is not leadership. This is not a credential to become CEO of Canada behaves. This is the Prince William Strategy: look good until your turn.
5. Fix Canada's largest province by electing a Premier in Ontario who doesn't regard tax dollars as a slush fund to be spent as quickly as needed to win elections. The province, the most indebted sub-national government on the planet, will overtake Ottawa in debts within a couple of years, especially when interest rates on its soaring debts rise. Ontario has absolutely no choice but to slash costs dramatically or privatize all of its crown corporations to pay down debt.
6. Fix the US-Canada border. The US-Canada Free Trade Agreement is 26 years old and the border is worse than before the deal was signed. This is unique and starting to cause manufacturers to relocate south of the border just like the bad old days. The Border Action Plan announced two years ago to open up the border has gone nowhere apart from a few pilot schemes for trucks or Nexus machines in more airports.
7. Beef up border protections to keep out undesirables. The Auditor General's report recently underscored the fact that the Canada Border Services Agency isn't getting the information it needs and dangerous people are slipping into the country by land and by air as a result. The agency needs to improve it monitoring of high-risk people trying to immigrate, a chronic problem that's been unaddressed since 1986 when Ottawa opened the floodgates.
8. Fix the First Nations mess as a matter of national priority. Canada must take a page out of Australia's playbook and pass legislation that will bypass the current legal morass. Australia in three years, following a devastating court controversy, created a fast track process in order to validate claims then adjudicate them expeditiously. The result was that Australia's resource developments took off because title certainty eliminated investor concerns and aboriginals were not obstructionist but partners in the benefits.
9. Clean up the railway sector, particularly in light of terrible accidents and the fact that oil pipeline projects are becoming impossible to complete. Restrict railway transport of oil or other dangerous cargo to specific routes that are routinely inspected, at cost to oil companies, and manned by personnel with better qualifications than is now required.
10. Clone Brad Wall, Premier of Saskatchewan, so he can be Premier of the other nine provinces.