Harper’s economic record the worst in Canada’s postwar history

Posted on September 17, 2015 in History

TheStar.com – Opinion/Commentary – The Conservatives portray themselves as capable economic managers. But their record proves the opposite.
Sep 17 2015.   By: Jim Stanford Jordan Brennan

The Harper Shift looks at how Canada has changed over 10 years of Conservative government – and at what kind of country we want to become. Here economists Jordan Brennan and Jim Stanford consider a decade of dismal economic growth.

Stephen Harper’s Conservatives have always portrayed themselves as the most capable managers of Canada’s economy. And since pocketbook issues usually dominate any election campaign, that reputation — deserved or not — served them well in the past.

This time around, however, the economic terrain is proving less friendly. The closer we got to the fixed election date, the worse the economy became, undermining the “stay the course” message at the heart of Conservative strategy. Indeed, Canada slipped into outright recession in the first half of 2015. Undaunted, the prime minister shrugged this off as “a couple of weak months,” and promises better times around the corner — but only if Canadians re-elect his party.

Economists can debate whether this year’s recession — the second on Harper’s watch — is already over, or whether falling business investment and rising consumer debt will delay a rebound. But the most damning aspect of the Conservative legacy is not a short-term cyclical downturn. It is a longer-run failure to stimulate growth, job-creation, innovation, and investment.

After all, the only reason the oil price slump could tip the whole country into recession is because the economy had so little momentum in the first place. We’ve endured years of subpar growth (“serial disappointment,” in Stephen Poloz’s words), long before the present downturn arrived.

Yes, the 2008-09 financial crisis was part of the problem: but it’s not the only recession Canada has experienced, nor was it the worst. More important, the slow and inconsistent recovery from that downturn ranks as the weakest in postwar history. Then, before the damage was really repaired, Canada slipped into recession again.

We have developed a comprehensive portrait of economic performance under every Canadian government from 1946 through 2014, based on official data on 16 conventional indicators (everything from employment and labour force participation, to growth, productivity and indebtedness). Our results refute the self-congratulatory rhetoric of Conservative speechwriters.

Far from unleashing a business-led boom, Harper has in fact presided over the weakest economic era in Canada’s postwar history. For example, from 2006 through 2014 (not even counting the current downturn), Canada experienced the slowest average economic growth since the Great Depression (measured by the expansion of GDP after inflation and population growth). Harper wasn’t even close to the next-worst prime minister: another Conservative, Brian Mulroney.

Across other indicators, too (including job-creation, productivity, personal incomes, business investment, household debt, and inequality), the Harper government ranked last or second-last among all postwar governments. Its overall ranking was the worst of any prime minister since 1946.

The Conservative failure to elicit more business investment and exports has been especially damaging. Those are the two most strategic components of spending in a market economy. Conservatives promised that expensive corporate tax cuts (costing $15 billion per year) would boost investment, and that signing more free trade deals would do the same for exports. But neither worked. Exports hardly grew at all under Harper (the slowest in postwar history), and business investment was stagnant, now declining. Government spending cuts, enforced in earnest after the Conservatives won their majority in 2011, only exacerbated the macroeconomic funk.

In short, the Conservatives’ austere, business-led strategy has produced stagnation for the economy, and incredible uncertainty for Canadians. Families worry rightly that the traditional dream of shared prosperity is slipping away from them, and from their children.

On its own, of course, economic growth cannot solve all of society’s challenges. We must simultaneously ensure that economic gains are fairly distributed, maintain a proper balance between private consumption and public services, and invest in sustainable environmental practices. But without growth and job-creation, all those challenges get harder, not easier.

Canadians can work and produce more than ever. There are more of us, we are better educated, and our productivity has grown. We can have more of what we need, not less: including higher wages, better jobs, and stronger public programs. All we lack is the opportunity to put our capacities to work in decent jobs. The Conservative trickle-down vision, focused on enriching corporations and the investors who own them, has failed bitterly. We need an alternative vision, both hopeful and pragmatic, to mobilize Canada’s idle human and financial capital and build an inclusive, prosperous economy.

Jordan Brennan and Jim Stanford are economists with Unifor, Canada’s largest private sector union. Their full report on the economic performance of postwar prime ministers, Rhetoric and Reality, is available at www.uniforvotes.ca.

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2 Responses to “Harper’s economic record the worst in Canada’s postwar history”

  1. This article accurately reflects the state of disorder while under Stephan Harper’s regime. The erosion of our democracy did not become apparent to me or to many other Canadians until an accumulation of effects was felt at the root of our Canadian identity. This article effectively exposes the deterioration of the good reputation of Canada being seen as a political haven, in regards to gun control, universal health care, and public education. Throughout Harper’s regime, he has been known to create a litany of corruption. I believe that he was more concerned about politics over policies, in which he considers transparency and checks and balances as an obstacle to governance rather than important principles of democracy. The story of Attawapiskat is a prime example of Harper’s government negligence and lack of government intervention. His bureaucratic principles made it more complex for the people that are already oppressed to overcome oppression by making Aboriginal children on the reserves attend school in unsafe and unsanitary conditions, while children in the provincial school system had the luxury of going to school in more suitable conditions. Harper’s government had allowed his federal and provincial government to hide their money for surplus gain, as opposed to invest their money to the people who are at the forefronts of poverty. Another prime example of Harper’s erosion of democracy, would be Canadian citizenship and immigration, which has been maliciously undermined.

    As Canadian citizens, we must hold our governments accountable at every opportunity, so that we will not continue the damage that has been created by the Harper government. We must also demand that they repair the gaps that have been constituted and abused so that Harper’s predecessors will not perpetuate repeated errors of the past.

  2. I completely agree with the content of this article and it resonates with my personal experiences. As a fairly young woman I have not experienced what it was like under different political parties, nor did I make an effort to get to know them in the past. During my life it has been the conservative parties in power, Brian Mulroney, Mike Harris, and Steven Harper. All three of these men have caused great deals of financial turmoil for the lower classes that we have not yet recovered from. All I have experienced is cuts to our essential services, and programs, rarely have I seen any real progress for the lower class. What I have come to realize is that the majority of individuals will vote for Harper because his views are mostly in line with theirs. As stated in the article “And since pocketbook issues usually dominate any election campaign, that reputation — deserved or not — served them well in the past.” Many Canadians assume that their views are fair, but in reality we are all capitalist. We are concerned primarily with our own capital gains, that is unless you are in a social work position. Capitalism is what keeps Harper in power, his promises for continued capital gain will have that pocketbook issue on the back of many individuals’ minds. As capitalists we tend to ignore the downfalls, and remember the gains our government has provided us. I have seen very little progress since my entry into the work force a little over 14 years ago. Although minimum wage has been increased, it is still a less than substandard wage that has yet to correlate with inflation and the cost of living in today’s society. Job opportunities seem to have disappeared with the recessions, and we have never fully recovered from it. The few part time/temporary/contract jobs that are available are much harder to get because there is so much competition for jobs in today’s work force. Employers are hiring people that are over qualified with higher education, and experienced applicants for substandard minimum wage jobs. The lack of stimulation in the economy is hurting the working class. For every recession we have faced under the Harper government, I have personally felt the effects, I either lost my job due to cuts, or had a significant cut in my hours forcing me to look for a second, even third job to provide my family with the bare minimum.
    We are in desperate need for a new political party, one that wants us, and encourages us as an economy to thrive, and prosper. We need a party who will ensure that jobs are created, that funds are not cut from the essential services we all utilize as Canadians, regardless of where we are in terms of our income, we need a government that will put a stop the privatization of services. I haven’t always have been anti-conservative, but as someone who has lived under a poverty line my entire life, the views the conservative party are not in line with my own. Once I learnt more about political parties my views soon changed. I have seen and felt the damages of a conservative party, and we are in dire need for a change, we need more equal opportunity amongst individuals. As social workers we are feeling the brunt of these changes, not only in our personal lives, but in our practices. Our job descriptions have changed, we are working under a conservative government which in turn impacts the way we provide our services to our clients, we are stagnant in our progress as our government limits our abilities to provide the services we want to provide, we are working under a scope that is not in line with our values as social workers.
    This article does not surprise me, but it does makes me sad. The majority of Canadians are holding back certain aspects of our countries progress for our own capital gain. The rich don’t care how wealth distribution affects the lower class as long as it benefits them, Harper included.


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