Canada’s natural governing parties have met a big moment in history with small campaigns
I’ve never been much for Ayn Rand, but man, this election threatens to turn thinking people from all segments of the political spectrum into fans of Atlas Shrugged.
With all due respect to the hard working men and women of the middle class and those eager to join them, getting ahead will require more than voting for a bundle of boutique tax credits or kitschy ideas such as camping vouchers.
There are moments in history, and we’re in one. The climate is at an inflection point, and neither of the two parties with the best chance of winning the election has had the courage to present a plan that will allow Canada to meet its obligations under the Paris Agreement.
But at least the environment comes up on the campaign trail. There are decent odds that the next government will confront a recession, but no party has seen fit to factor that possibility into their spending programs.
No matter what happens in the short term, the economy will continue to leave behind industries on which Canada has built its prosperity. The contributions by oil, automobile production and retail banking all will shrink as a percentage of gross domestic product, replaced by the winners of the transition to a digital economy.
How would the Liberals or Conservatives manage that shift? No idea, because they haven’t said a word about it. But both would make it easier for first-time homebuyers to take on more debt, and both would trim tax rates so life would feel a little more affordable.
There is one group that would like to talk about big things, and that’s big business. But too many of us have apparently told pollsters that we hate rich people, because anyone that runs a company that employs more than a few dozen people has been excluded from the campaign. Mom-and-pop businesses employ a lot of people, but it’s the big ones that drive most of the innovation and create most of the wealth. Income inequality is important, but Canada isn’t the United States or India, where wealth gaps are extreme. Our political parties have lost sight of that.
Canada’s business establishment isn’t yet ready to decamp for some Randian paradise. Two corporate lobbies are using the Saturday papers to make one last attempt to push their way into the election debate. The Council of Canadian Innovators (CCI), which represents fast-growing tech outfits, rounded up 112 chief executives to sign an open letter to the four major party leaders as an ad in the Globe and Mail.
“We’re writing because Canada’s productivity is lagging and our future economic prosperity is at risk,” the letter states. “You can help by developing policies that advance innovative Canadian companies including increasing their access to skilled talent, growth capital, and new customers.”
We’re writing because Canada’s productivity is lagging and our future economic prosperity is at risk
Council of Canadian Innovators letter
Separately, the Chamber of Commerce chose to intervene through a letter to the editor in the National Post. The Chamber conducted an extensive survey of its members and published a detailed list of policy recommendations well ahead of the start of the campaign. For the most part, the efforts of the country’s main business lobby have been ignored.
“Party leaders have all made a number of promises to put a few dollars here and there back in the pockets of Canadians through various federal government programs, interventions and tax changes,” wrote Ryan Greer, senior director of policy, and Phil Taylor, senior director of strategic communications. “However, none of them has presented a serious plan to grow our economy. Go read all of the election platforms and promises released so far, and look for words like competitiveness and productivity. Their scarcity is astounding.”
Go read all of the election platforms and promises released so far, and look for words like competitiveness and productivity. Their scarcity is astounding
Canadian Chamber of Commerce
The Conservatives haven’t yet released their full platform, so maybe they are holding out on the business community. Andrew Scheer, the leader, promised to appoint an expert panel to review the tax system, which would please most executives. But the target audience that day was smaller companies, and the headline was a pledge that would make it easier for doctors, consultants and other professionals to incorporate and use their companies to shelter passive investments from the Canada Revenue Agency.
Not quite a cut to capital gains taxes, which could spur investment in innovative companies. The Liberals also mentioned a tax review in passing, but one that would look to close loopholes that benefit the wealthy. Anything that might force an objective look at Canada’s overly complicated and misaligned tax code could help, but it’s hard to be confident that the Liberals are serious, since they have dismissed the idea outright until now.
That’s the trouble with this campaign. The Trudeau Liberals lack credibility because they blew so many promises during their four years in power, and the Conservatives haven’t shown they would be any better. Scheer’s economic policy amounts to saying he will balance the budget, while making small-beer promise after small-beer promise that would widen the shortfall.
Canada’s natural governing parties have met a big moment in history with small campaigns. The only people who appear to have noticed are those who all politicians have chosen to tune out. Because it’s 2019.