Middle class is key to economic recovery, Rae says
TheStar.com – news/canada/politics
Published On Wed Nov 09 2011. Susan Delacourt, Ottawa Bureau
Restoring the pillars of a strong middle class is key to Canada’s economic recovery, says Liberal interim leader Bob Rae in an address to be delivered Wednesday.
In his first major policy speech since he assumed the leadership, Rae lays out a roadmap to lead his Liberals back to power.
Although short on details, he lists those “pillars:” good, affordable housing and education, “interesting and rewarding” jobs, a strong health-care system and “retirement with dignity.”
And, he said, it is Canada’s struggling middle class that is the real casualty in populist, “bumper-sticker-style” politics that have been on the rise in this country.
“The trouble with the populist narrative, whether of the left or the right, is its essential dishonesty, as if a simple bumper sticker — “tax the rich” or “tough on crime” is really going to provide answers to the real issues we face as a country,” Rae says in the text of the speech, provided in advance to the Star.
“We Liberals find ourselves competing with two other parties with simplistic messages. The Conservatives want tax giveaways for the better off, the NDP wants to raise taxes and then throws in a ‘tax-the-rich’ message for good measure.”
And when Conservatives claim credit for Canada’s regulated banking system, progressive taxes and strong social safety net, they are taking credit for a Liberal legacy that’s still relevant in Canada today — maybe even more relevant in a “turbulent” world, Rae says.
“When it comes to Canada’s strengths today, the Conservatives were born on third base and think they hit a triple,” Rae says in the speech.
The Liberals were reduced to third-party status for the first time in their party history in the May 2 election — squeezed out by a majority victory for Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservatives and an “orange surge” for the New Democratic Party, which is now the official Opposition.
Both these parties are tapping into a well of popular frustration — the same kind fuelling the Occupy movements and the Tea Party politics in the U.S., says Rae.
But while the popular frustration may be real, populist politics are not the answer, he argues.
“The Occupy movement is a powerful reflection of what happens when trust breaks down. But it’s more,” Rae says in his speech. “While it’s often seen as just a protest movement of the marginalized, it’s also speaking to a clear sense among the middle-class people around the world that the government is not in their corner; that it has stopped fighting for them.”
In an interview with the Star, Rae said he was struck by some of the people he met at Toronto’s Occupy demonstrations in St. James Park — middle-class people such as teachers or accountants who feel that their concerns and fears are being ignored by the polarized, political class in Ottawa.
“I think there’s a huge appetite for debate and I think there’s a huge appetite for the facts and I think Canadians are ready for a serious discussion on the issues,” Rae said.
Rae’s speech on Wednesday comes a day after the fall statement by Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, in which the government backed away from its election promises to balance the budget by 2014-15 because of worsening economic circumstances worldwide.
Had Flaherty given that statement in the middle of the election, Rae said in an interview on Tuesday, “people would have laughed him off the stage.” The Liberal leader also said it’s revealing that the finance minister chose to give his economic statement far away from Parliament, during a week when MPs are back home in their ridings.
“It’s obviously designed to avoid questions,” Rae said.
Rae says Canadians understand that the economy and economic problems are complex.
“We can’t shore these up with grievances and complaints or with declarations of class warfare,” Rae says in his speech. “We need to have a positive, constructive, affordable approach.”
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