On Stephen Harper's watch, Canada has suffered through two recessions. He failed to anticipate either one.
Before the first one (which began in late 2008), Mr. Harper's management was reckless. He ignored warnings about housing bubbles and banking weaknesses in the United States. He overspent by three-times the rate of inflation. He mangled the tax base. He eliminated all previous federal contingency reserves and prudence factors, and put the country back on the verge of a deficit once again -- all BEFORE any downturn actually hit.
Mr. Harper foolishly denied a recession was likely and predicted five consecutive surpluses. He was completely wrong and left the country vulnerable and ill-prepared.
Recovery from that first recession started in the summer of 2009, but it was slow and uncertain. Obsessed with his ideology of austerity -- trying to eviscerate the federal government at every turn -- Mr. Harper failed to lead Canada to full recovery before a second recession began last winter. And despite Conservative bravado about a mythical balanced budget in 2015, the Harper regime remains in deficit for the eighth consecutive year.
As a consequence, Canadians are stuck with $158-billion in new Harper debt -- without much to show for it. There are 160,000 more jobless Canadians today than before Mr. Harper took power. Job quality is at a 25-year low. Household debt is near a record high. Canada's trade deficit this year has topped $13-billion. Business and consumer confidence are down. And Mr. Harper has cemented his reputation for having the worst economic growth record of any Prime Minister since R.B. Bennett in the 1930s.
Even Mr. Harper's most ardent apologists have to admit that this statement is 100 per cent statistically correct. No Prime Minister has done worse on growth in 80 years. But, they say, look at all the troubles he had to contend with.
That plaintive Conservative whine doesn't hold water. Every government has its challenges to confront. They can and should be measured on how well they cope with the hands they are dealt.
The Liberal government elected in 1993 inherited from its Conservative predecessor a fiscal mess of unprecedented proportions. The annual federal deficit was approaching $40-billion. The accumulated federal debt was the equivalent of nearly 70 per cent of GDP. One-third of every federal tax dollar was gobbled up in debt servicing costs.
The international financial media referred to Canada disparagingly as a candidate for honourary membership in the Third World.
And there were cascading challenges to face: Two international currency crises. A separatist referendum. The SARS pandemic. An ice-storm in central Canada. A hurricane across Atlantic Canada. A massive power failure that shutdown our industrial heartland. The pressing need to rescue the Canada Pension Plan and refinance Canadian medicare. The 9-11 crisis. George W. Bush in Iraq. The beginning of the War in Afghanistan. And the list goes on.
The Liberal legacy was a decade of balanced budgets, average annual economic growth over three per cent, consistent trade surpluses every month of every year, 3.4-million net new jobs, lower debt, lower taxes, record high Transfer Payments to the provinces, major investments in such critical priorities as children and families, education, science, innovation and infrastructure, a financial surplus of $13-billion per year, and one of the strongest fiscal situation in the western world.
That's what Mr. Harper inherited in 2006. His tenure also benefited from a slightly stronger global economic growth rate overall than the Liberals had to work with.
But Mr. Harper blew it. Confronted with new challenges (as every prime minister is), he failed to cope with them successfully. His plan is in tatters. He now thrashes about for scapegoats, blaming Obama or the Chinese or the Greeks or the world at large.
Just as in his PMO scandal with Mike Duffy, Mr. Harper cannot bring himself to shoulder his own responsibility. He cannot look Canadians in the eye and tell them the truth.
And that's why this country wants change. Real change, to a new government that is truly better.
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