Yesterday's throne speech offered little tidbits to various types of voters -- cheaper cell phone and cable rates and the right to carry beer across provincial borders. It's a time honoured political strategy: when the news isn't good, invite the plebeians to a circus. The truth is, Tom Walkom writes, that -- when it comes to sound economic management -- the news for Conservatives isn't good:
The truth is that Canada’s economy is not doing well. Official unemployment may be hovering around the 7 per cent mark (last month it was 6.9 per cent). But official unemployment figures do not take into account those who are underemployed or who have simply given up looking for work.
The Harperite take on employment is the same as Mark Twain's take on the weather: They talk about it. But they don't do anything about it:
Instead, [they] focus on ill-advised measures that range from unhelpful to counterproductive.
First, after a brief flirtation with stimulus spending in 2009 (and I give Harper credit for that) the government has assumed that Canada’s job woes are entirely structural.
Indeed there are problems with the structure of the economy. Jobs in manufacturing — and even in information technology — are moving offshore; automation is replacing human labour.
But the world is also going through a long cyclical slump, one in which consumers don’t have money to spend and businesses are afraid to invest. In this kind of world, Ottawa’s focus on fiscal austerity — on pulling government money out of the economy — only makes matters worse.
Second, the government is systematically taking aim at anything, from employment insurance to unionization, that keeps wages up. The Dickensian notion here is that full employment can be achieved only if most of us are willing to work for peanuts.
Third, the government is focusing its efforts on the alleged mismatch between jobs and skills. It argues that there is plenty of work around but that Canadians don’t have the right skills to get those jobs.
If there is anything consistent about Harperite employment strategy, it is the concerted effort to drive down wages -- which is what the temporary foreign workers program was all about. That program hasn't worked out so well. In fact, for workers, Mr. Harper's entire economic program hasn't worked out very well.
"When bread is lacking," Walkom writes, "circuses always come in handy."