Election Watch #4: The Economy is NOT an Election Issue

As I may have mentioned before on this site, the party that pins its election chances on the economy is taking a big risk. Witness the Conservatives this year. In the spring Stephen Harper made a huge deal about his balanced budget, and now Canada is in recession.

But let’s not stumble in our rush to a gleeful “told you so.”

There is little evidence that the present recession has much to do with the Conservative party and their policies. Yes, they may be chastised for playing the energy card a bit too often, but whatever they did, the oil crash was going to come, Alberta was going to suffer, and Canada’s GNP along with it. The fact that Harper has presided over two recessions is simply a matter of statistics. Recessions tend to come about 8 – 10 years apart.

So what anyone did in the last 9 years has not had a great deal to do with where we are today, economy-wise. Most of our rebound from the last recession is thanks to careful banking practice that can be laid at the feet of several former governments and good old Canadian caution. Wait a few more years to find out how the Harper legacy really turns out. I would suggest that most of his effect has been social, and since most of that was negative, he can hardly run on that platform.

But a big advantage incumbents have is that they get to set the terms for the election. Harper set the election ball rolling down the “economy” alley – we suspect because he’s fresh out of any other ideas – and what it hits at the end is going to be interesting. Where has it put us?

Calling the Odds
At the moment, we have the Conservatives with nothing to say but, “Stay the course.” That one’s a real winner. We’re going to be stuck with “the course” no matter what the election results, and there’s very little the next government can do about it.

The NDP are put in an unenviable position. Thomas Mulcair is not Jack Layton. He can’t help but lose votes this time around. The only question is how many. His party is painfully aware that the only way they can make progress in this election is to play completely counter to their tradition. So here they are trumpeting the balanced budget in a situation where spending is a legitimate solution. Who is going to believe that?

Only the Liberals are free to choose their course. They haven’t given us much either, but at least they have decided to tell the truth. No matter who wins the election, the only way to ride out a recession is for the government to spend. Harper used the same technique during the last recession. Every government since the Great Depression has used it, and maybe before that. That’s what you do; it works. But it’s nothing new, nothing that shows leadership in the larger sense.

Unfortunately, because of our first-past-the-post election system, the highly capable Elizabeth May and her Green Party remain an interesting sideshow.

A Lack of Vision
But with the application of a bit of intelligence, we can go beyond this superficial sound-bite war. What has this election campaign shown so far about the parties involved? Nothing optimistic, when you consider that one or two of them will be running the country come November.

Conservatives:
This party has demonstrated a complete lack of leadership in the political sense. There is no plan but “keep us in power.” They have nothing to say about what Canadians are concerned with. Nothing on global warming, nothing on alternate energies, nothing on the whole aboriginal crisis. There is a lot of talk in the Conservative camp about the benefits of a strong leader, but as Nazi Germany, Stalinist Russia, and Maoist China have demonstrated, a strong leader dragging everyone in the wrong direction tends to get problematic.

NDP
The about-face by the NDP is especially unpleasant. My main complaint about Stephen Harper is his penchant for doing whatever it takes to gain power, and to hell with serving the people. How do the NDP rate when you look at their “Balanced Budget” platform in this regard?

Liberals
As I mentioned above, the Liberals, positioned in the middle of Canadian proclivities as they are, could have shown some leadership in many areas. They chose instead to let the Conservatives set the ground rules, and slug it out in the trenches on the topics of the economy, the Senate and whatever else doesn’t interest anyone.

If you had to call the election on that basis, we would have the Conservatives with nothing to give, the NDP with nothing anyone believes, and thus Liberals winning by default, which is a really lousy way to choose our national policies for the next few years.

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