Listening to Stephen Harper talk about the economy, you get the distinct impression that someone else entirely must have been running the country for the past 10 years.
Since 2006, Canada has been stuck with the weakest economic growth record in eight decades. Most recently, our GDP has actually been shrinking -- for four months in a row, maybe more. Growth forecasts for this year as a whole have been slashed by 25-30 per cent.
Job creation is weak and sporadic. It markedly slowed in the second quarter of this year compared to the first, and the first quarter was barely mediocre. There are 200,000 more jobless Canadians now than just before the 2008 recession.
That recession was milder than expected. It lasted less than one year and ended more than six years ago. But still, Canada has not recovered -- and it's all on Mr. Harper's watch.
Job quality is at its lowest ebb in 25 years. Long-term unemployment is high. Young people are especially vulnerable. Incomes are largely stagnant (except for the most wealthy). Household debt is near record highs. Inequality is getting worse.
This is Mr. Harper's record. So what does he have to say? First he blames that recession six years ago. Then the Americans. Then China. Then Europe and especially the Greeks. Canada's troubles are always somebody else's fault -- according to him .
Mr. Harper looks rather pathetic taking the coward's way out, denying all responsibility.
Apparently, he doesn't remember that period between 2006 and 2008 when he over-spent by three-times the rate of inflation, mangled the tax base, eliminated all the contingency reserves and prudence factors from the budget-making process, and put Canada back on the verge of deficits again -- BEFORE there was any recession to blame. Mr. Harper made us vulnerable.
He doesn't remember squandering -- in less than three years -- a decade of balanced budgets, annual surpluses of $13 billion and the strongest fiscal position in the western world.
He doesn't remember ignoring the warnings about failures in the U.S. housing market and the American banking system which were about to plunge the world into that 2008 downturn. Mr. Harper denied Canada would be seriously affected, preached more austerity and promised loudly never to run a deficit.
He was wrong on every count.
And when he couldn't deny reality any longer, he devised a stimulus program that was so mired in petty partisanship that it didn't get started until after the recession was officially over. He followed that up with net federal tax increases in five consecutive budgets -- including $10 billion in higher, job-killing Employment Insurance payroll taxes.
Mr. Harper undermined the long-term federal financial commitment to health care and old age pensions. He under-funded public safety, emergency preparedness and national security. He down-graded the country's scientific capacity. He slashed federal support for municipal infrastructure and for summer jobs for students. He even clawed-back vital benefits from veterans and returning soldiers.
So now Canada is on the cusp of another recession, and Mr. Harper wants us all to believe that he bears no responsibility. Worse still, he wants us to accept the notion that we're helpless and can do nothing about it. He refuses to consider any plan to replace his expensive and discriminatory tax breaks for the wealthy with sensible investments in the true drivers of growth and jobs -- infrastructure, higher learning and skills, science and innovation.
Mr. Harper is simply wrong -- again.
You need look no further than the Bank of Canada. While the government insists on restrictive fiscal policies, the central Bank is going in the opposite direction, adopting a pro-growth stance by cutting interest rates. That's the only tool the Bank has at its disposal and it comes with a significant downside -- it inflates consumer debt.
That downside could be avoided if the Harper regime would stop contradicting the Bank of Canada, pull in the same direction and help drive real growth.
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