When is the Canadian public going to understand that the Conservatives do not have good economic policy? Somehow they are continuously recognized as the party best suited to manage our economy. Opinion polls often find that a large portion of Canadians tirelessly vote Conservative solely for this fact. Especially for those not following politician’s platforms, they can rely on just voting Conservative for their perceived economic achievements.
Looking back at the track record of some past conservative leaders, their economic performances are far from impressive. Going back to the Mulroney days, his conservative party vowed to dissolve Liberal policies which they argued discouraged foreign investment, cut government spending, and restore economic confidence. Yet by the end of his 8 and a half year term in office, he managed to rack up 300 billion dollars in new debt. Some blame the state of the economy when he took over office from the Liberals and the recession of 90/91 for the new debt. Specifically, it is argued that if Mulroney was not handed the economy having to pay enormous interest on existing debt, he would have been running a surplus by the end. However, one could exhaustively debate factors like this.
On the contrary, our current Prime Minister cannot justify his debt levels on the same reasons. When he first took power in 2006, he was handed a steadily growing economy which had generated 3.5 million net new jobs, declining debt and taxes, a decade of balanced budgets, annual surpluses at about $13-billion, and fiscal flexibility projected ahead five years totalling $100-billion. That was the state of the economy when Harper’s conservatives took power. Sean Casey, Liberal MP for Charlottetown, P.E.I., released these stats in a recent blog post to the Huffington Post.
- Fact: Between 1996-97 and 2005-06, the Liberal government paid $81.4-billion against the national debt.
- Fact: The federal debt in the fiscal year 1996-97 was $562.9-billion. By the time the Liberals left office in 2006, it was reduced to $481.5-billion
- Fact: By the year 2014-15, the Conservatives will have added $176,400,000,000 to the national debt.
- Fact: The Conservative federal debt in 2008-09 = $457.6-billion.
- Fact: The expected Conservative debt in 2014-15 = $634.0-billion (forecasted).
- Fact: 24% of the total accumulated debt since Confederation was amassed under Stephen Harper, this just since 2008.
How can the conservative party justify a record of economic prowess with these facts in hand? Our debt is steadily increasing even with Harper’s austerity measures meant to counteract it. He has cut a record number of public service jobs in the past few years. The government promised in 2012 to save $5.2-billion in federal public administration costs over three years in an effort to balance the federal budget by 2015. Part of that plan included eliminating 19,200 jobs from the sector, or about 4.8% of the workforce. About 7000 were to be due to attrition, but the other 11 000 got the axe. Our unemployment levels may not be as bad as the United States, but they are certainly not close to full employment. The government cut these jobs to save money but the result is a slower economy, fewer services that people pay for, and no decreased debt.
It is also clear that the Conservatives are aware of needing to upkeep their image as good economists. Harper represents the federal budget as the “Economic Action Plan” that includes tag lines like, “we’re focused on jobs, growth and long term prosperity.” The advertising and promotion of this plan has cost approximately $100 million over the past 4 years. A Harris-Decima survey found that the number of people who did something as a result of seeing the ads registered at seven per cent, with six per cent for the winter ad campaign. One of the most heavily promoted programs currently on the Economic Action Plan website, the Canada Job Grant, has not yet been negotiated with the provinces and is not accessible to any Canadian worker.
Is this good economic policy? There are many aspects to the health of the economy but enormous debt levels, pouring millions into government advertising, and unsupported austerity measures are clearly not evidence of proficient economic management. Through all these problems there are still those that believe in their ability. Perhaps the Conservatives should become well known for their talent in the art of public persuasion instead.