The Harper government has repeated the same mantra for seven years: We know best how to manage the Canadian economy. But, Edward Greenspon writes, the truth is opposed to the mantra:
With exceptions such as the drive to rebalance the budget, ours is a government that dabbles in economic policy, often with little consistency, coherence or conviction. Telecom is just a recent manifestation. Policy has been predicated on a simple — and simplistic — proposition: introduce a fourth player in the market and prices will plummet. The government has been at it since greasing the wheels for Mobilicity and Wind in 2008. In the case of Wind, it went so far as to ignore the law of the land on foreign ownership but not so far as to change the law, which would have opened the protected sector to U.S. competitors.
"Simplistic" is the operative word. The Harperites are focused on the deficit, not the economy. The Martin Liberals, who are bogeymen to the Harperites, also faced deficit problems. But they worked hard to develop a 21st century economy:
Once they beat down the deficit, the Liberals focused their economic policy on supporting the building blocks of the knowledge economy through creation of the Canada Foundation for Innovation, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, Canada Research Chairs, etc. The Harper government has turned instead to energy and trade as its priorities. The former has been a well-documented jumble, culminating in a Keystone XL pipeline file that could have been managed by the Keystone cops themselves.
Past governments knew how to lay the groundwork for the world ahead:
Peter Harder, a former deputy minister of industry and foreign affairs and current president of the Canada-China Business Council, has observed that with our European partners devastated after the Second World War, Canadian leaders realized the future lay in North America. Government policy promoted all kinds of hard and soft infrastructure: the St. Lawrence Seaway, pipelines, electrical grids, an auto pact, interconnected highways, bilateral talk shops.
With its emphasis on resource extraction, the Harper government steadfastly believes it can return the Canadian economy to the 19th century. Mr. Harper doesn't know where's he's going. But he will be happy when we return to where we've been.