After putting all his eggs in one basket—counting on oil prices remaining high—Prime Minister Stephen Harper is now lurching about, searching for a plan B and making it up as he goes along.
Canada is facing a very different reality. The Conference Board of Canada says Alberta may fall into recession. Oil patch jobs, investment plans and export values are all slumping. The Bank of Canada is warning of a serious slowdown. Government revenues are set to drop.
The Conservative government has no idea what to do and is stalling for time, hoping that these problems will solve themselves. One day it said oil prices have no effect on the budget, the next day it delayed the budget until April because of oil prices. That does not create confidence and reassure consumers and investors.
Last November Mr. Harper threw prudence out the window and announced a costly income splitting benefit for the wealthy long before the budget was balanced. Former Finance Minister Jim Flaherty warned that this plan was expensive and unfair, and he was right. Income splitting will hurt growth and will not benefit 85% of Canadian households.
With no fiscal room to maneuver, the Conservatives are now preparing to ask middle class families to make yet more sacrifices so that billions in tax breaks for wealthiest can be protected. It’s irresponsible and unfair for Mr. Harper to ask the middle class to pay to give families like his a $2000 tax break.
Mr. Harper has added $160 billion in debt, or $20,000 for every Canadian family of four. Under his watch, economic growth has averaged a meagre 1.7%, the worst of any Prime Minister since R.B. Bennett in the dirty thirties.
The decline in the global price of oil has revealed the unbalanced nature of Conservative economic policies, which have focused almost exclusively on the oil sector. And even those plans have failed, with not a single kilometer of new pipeline being built to get it to world markets during Mr. Harper’s nine years in power.
Canada needs leadership with a plan to grow the economy, in every sector and in every region. That’s why Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau has called for a vigorous plan for investments in community infrastructure and housing; post-secondary learning and skills; research and innovation; smart, clean sustainable energy and resource development; a diversified, more value-added economy; and aggressive global branding and marketing to rebuild a consistent trade surplus. That’s the kind of leadership Canada needs.
Marc Garneau, MP
Liberal Party of Canada