As scandalous as Stephen Harper’s fighter jet plan has been (and even more wasteful is his $9 billion expenditure on jails we don’t need) there’s a larger issue: The economy is not growing fast enough to create enough jobs for Canadian workers.
The number of jobless is higher than suggested by the unemployment rate, which does not count those who have quit looking for work. Underemployment there’s aplenty, especially in Ontario and Quebec, particularly among the young and new immigrants. The work they do get is mostly low-paying and temporary, with few or no benefits.
Yet little was said about this national crisis in the recent federal and Ontario budgets, reactions to which ran along narrow ideological lines.
Some said Harper had chickened out — there were no mega-cuts, no blood on the floor. Others said he was out to eviscerate government in the years ahead.
Dalton McGuinty was similarly pilloried in Ontario for either not trimming enough or cutting too much.
While Canada is not Greece, Italy, Spain or the U.S., our slow growth is making governments scramble for revenues and Canadians for jobs.
This is not all Harper’s or McGuinty’s fault, given globalization and the tanking of the American economy.
As far back as 2005, an IT executive in India outlined for me a scary prospect for Canada.
China and India, after denuding our manufacturing base and cutting into our service sector — answering our phones; processing our bank accounts, credit cards, airline and hotel reservations; reading our MRIs; completing our architectural designs; etc. — would go on to take over many more of our corporate functions: payroll, accounting, inventory, marketing, even journalism (editing and laying out pages, doing interviews by phone or Skype, writing commentaries, etc.).
In that case, what would Canadian kids do? I asked.
“The official answer,” he said, “is that they’d do high-end research, create value-added work and invent new products. The unofficial answer is that they’d mostly amuse themselves.”
“They are already amusing themselves — playing games on their mobile phones, watching movies on laptops and so on. They’ll do even more of the same.”
Sure enough, we now play with the gadgets that others make.
When Barack Obama asked Steve Jobs last year why some of his 70 million iPhones, 30 million iPads and 59 million other Apple products could not be manufactured in the U.S., the president was told point blank that that was not economically feasible.
And whereas Arab youth are using social media to bring about democratic revolutions, ours are using it mostly for amusement. And Dwight Duncan wants all Ontarians to amuse themselves more at casinos and the LCBO so he may raise more revenues.
How are we going to grow the economic pie? Where will the jobs come from? What’s our next BlackBerry?
The Harper budget did provide an answer. We go back to the future, as hewers of wood and drawers of water: Dig out as many resources as we can, extract as much oil as possible from the tarsands and lay down as many pipelines as fast as investment permits. Damn the environment and damn the pesky environmentalists.
Lest we sneer, it is at least a strategy. It’s working for Australia. It’s bringing prosperity to western Canada — Alberta, in particular. Some day it might to Ontario and Quebec as well, given McGuinty’s mining plans in the James Bay lowlands and Jean Charest’s Plan Nord to explore northernmost Quebec. An earlier McGuinty plan to create green jobs, similar to Obama’s, has not been a big enough economic engine to drive the growth needed, in Ontario or the U.S.
Economic insecurity breeds tribalism. In central Canada, everyone is out to protect themselves — unions, corporate fat cats, doctors, seniors. Don’t touch my job security, don’t hike my taxes, don’t cut my pension, don’t postpone my retirement, don’t delay my knee replacement.
Canada needs an honest debate on what we can still afford and how.
Ontario could accept its have-not status and feed off the West’s resource-based economy. Toronto is already the world capital for raising mining capital. Perhaps we could create a new manufacturing base making equipment for mining and gas and oil extraction and transportation.
We must find new ways to grow the economy to create the jobs and the revenues we need to fend off the creeping Me-Me-ism that threatens to destroy the Canadian ethos of sharing and lead ultimately to the tribal politics of the Tea Party.