Jim Flaherty needs credible jobs plan
TheStar.com – Opinion/Commentary – Despite a consistent record of failure, Jim Flaherty intends to table another job creation budget.
Feb 06 2014. By: Carol Goar, Star Columnist
Finance Minister Jim Flaherty says the theme of his 10th budget next week will be jobs and growth.
That was the theme of last year’s budget, too. He labelled it an action plan to “create high-paying jobs and help business succeed.”
The year before that, he called his budget: Supporting Jobs and Growth.
In 2011, his budget was entitled Low-tax Plan for Jobs and Growth.
In his 2010 budget, he set the post-recession pattern: Leading the Way on Jobs and Growth.
One of these years, Flaherty is bound to be right. But it hasn’t happened yet.
Since the early days of the recovery, Canada’s job creation record has gone from modest to moribund. Last year, the nation eked out just 102,000 jobs — its worst performance since the recession.
With a federal election looming, Flaherty’s dogged insistence that job creation is his top priority poses three risks.
The first is failure to deliver. It becomes more obvious with each budget.
The second is his government’s contribution to the problem. Since 2012 the federal Conservatives have cut roughly 15,000 public service jobs. This year they plan to eliminate another 5,000. Following Ottawa’s example, the provinces have reduced their payrolls. All told, the layoffs in the public sector have cut a swath through the labour market.
The third is the minister’s manifest failure to persuade business to pick up the slack. Corporate leaders have turned a deaf ear to his entreaties to use their multibillion-dollar stockpile of retained earnings to hire unemployed workers.
Flaherty’s luck could improve this year. The U.S. economy is strengthening after a five-year stall and the European debt crisis is receding. But there is an equal chance global developments will undercut his calculations. Commodity prices are slumping. Growth is slowing in China, India and Brazil.
All the finance minister can do is hope the positive forces outweigh the negative ones.
He does have two factors working in his favour.
The first is that neither of the opposition parties has a credible job creation plan.
“We believe in a positive role for government in helping create good jobs and the NDP would do just that.” New Democratic Party Leader Thomas Mulcair told the House of Commons last week. At this point, the only detail he has unveiled is that an NDP government would “leverage our resources to create wealth and prosperity for generations to come.”
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau’s economic strategy is even vaguer. “We stand for turning deficits into surpluses; growing our economy and creating good jobs across the country,” his website says. How he would accomplish these feats remains a mystery.
Until they come up with something better, Flaherty can legitimately claim that he is at least trying to coax employers to turn a jobless recovery into a real one.
His second advantage is that he has a clear, consistent — some would say dogmatic — philosophy.
As a Conservative, he believes the role of government is to create the right climate for employment growth — not create jobs directly. This market-based approach allows Flaherty to claim he has taken the right steps — reduced corporate taxes, cut red tape and promoted skill upgrading — but the private sector didn’t do its part.
Neither argument is likely to win many votes if the pace of job creation doesn’t pick up.
Flaherty can try to distract the electorate by heralding his party’s success inbalancing the budget on schedule. He can announce new tax breaks such asincome-splitting and roomier tax-free savings accounts. He can slam his opponents for their fiscal profligacy.
But he’ll have trouble convincing voters that Tories are good economic managers if more than a million Canadians remain of work; if middle class parents are losing hope their well-educated children will ever build a career in this country; if people see their friends and relatives falling behind; and if living standards are dropping.
Flaherty is set to gamble once more that Canadians will believe his rhetoric and ignore his record. The odds grow longer each day.
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