There are, Andrew Coyne writes, several big issues which should be debated in the upcoming election -- but probably won't be. Here are a few of them:
1. Deficits, Debt and Economic Growth
Oh, they’ll all mention the deficit. But none of them will offer to do much about it. The most that any of the major parties will promise will be a (gently) declining debt-to-GDP ratio years from now, which itself would require corrective measures none of them will propose.
You can grow your way out of debt -- either quickly or slowly:
None of the parties will put forward anything that would do much to improve Canada’s growth rate in the long run.
In the past, we relied heavily on rapid growth in the labour force to generate higher output and incomes. But with the baby boomers hitting retirement age, labour force growth has slowed to a crawl. Instead, we will have to wring more output from each worker, mostly by giving them more and better machines to work with.
Alas, that would require much higher rates of private investment than we currently enjoy, which means taxing the returns to that investment less punitively. The other ingredient of higher productivity: more competition – for example, by more fully opening industries such as airlines, financial services, and telecommunications to foreign players.
That none of these have made a dime’s worth of difference to the economy will not make a dime’s worth of difference to the debate.
And, most tellingly, as the recently released IPCC report makes clear, the planet cannot withstand this kind of economic growth.
2. National Unity
The federation, and the constitutional order that underpins it, is under strain, on two fronts. On the one hand, Quebec’s Bill 21, effectively banning the hiring of observant religious minorities across much of the public sector, and Bill 96, which purports to unilaterally entrench Quebec’s status as a unilingual nation in the Constitution, are plain violations of the Charter of Rights and, arguably, the division of powers.
On the other hand, Alberta is to hold a referendum shortly after the election on whether to remove equalization from the Constitution – which it has no power to decide, but which holds all sorts of trouble-making potential. The move is in part a protest at Alberta’s oil being blocked from export markets by, among others, Quebec, equalization’s largest recipient, which, again, it has no legitimate power to do.
The pressures are coming from different ends of the country and from different political perspectives. None of the parties wants to open up this can of worms.
Parliament And Accountability
We’ll probably hear lots about this, at least from the opposition: about the Prime Minister’s disregard for the Commons, his stonewalling of committees, frequent recourse to time allocation and omnibus bills, and abuse of the powers of prorogation and dissolution. All are indeed sins – but they were sins of the previous prime minister as well.
The Liberals came to power vowing to clean up the mess left by the Conservatives, as the Conservatives came to power vowing to clean up the mess left by the Liberals. So while the opposition parties will squawk about ethics and accountability, unless they offer some evidence that their commitment to change is any more sincere than their predecessors’, it is all a waste of breath.
Parliamentary Accountability is like the weather -- which, Mark Twain wrote, everyone talks about, but nobody does anything about.
Let the debate begin!