We've seen this story before in the mid-1990s, when out-of-control deficits and an impending sovereign debt crisis led to painful spending cuts and tax increases. The government is wrong to make the return to budget balance conditional on strong economic growth. Population aging is already taking its toll on long-term projections, and too many unforeseen events can derail the fiscal path. Only tight fiscal discipline can balance the budget within a reasonable timeframe, protecting Canadians' standards of living from future large tax increases and cuts to government services.
This problem is also a Canadian concern. A May 2015 survey of high-impact Canadian firms revealed that "finding employees to expand and scale their business ranks as one of the top challenges identified by entrepreneurs." Lower and less progressive taxation would help attract and retain highly specialized labour.
"There are lies, damned lies and statistics" is the well-worn phrase, but nothing better sums up the recent Fraser Institute scare mongering about taxes being the single largest budget item of Canadian households -- as catchy as the headlines may be, it is alarmist spin. Such biased economic exercises raise a fundamental question: Just what indicators should we be using to keep score on Canada's economic performance?
Simon Kuzents, the economist who developed the GDP measurement, warned it was not a good meter stick for national well-being. Still, that's exactly how the GDP has been used globally since the 1940s. GDP is the total value of all the goods and services a country produces in a year. So, creating jobs and producing equipment to clean up an oil spill, for example, adds to the GDP. As does producing guns and bombs for war. GDP is blind to factors like unemployment, living conditions and environmental degradation. Make sense? Not really. Whether it's genuine progress, national happiness, or a system that blends the best of both, the global community must agree on a more holistic way to measure our nations' progress that doesn't just count the money we make.
Canada's energy sector service and equipment exporters are in for tough times, and cash flows for oil and gas exporters will tighten significantly. This is already beginning to spill red ink on Canada's trade and fiscal statistics. However, Canada's non-energy sector exporters should see a substantial boost.