Thursday, April 09, 2009

My moral compass says it's still the economy, stupid

Why is Stephen Harper talking about moral compasses? This is why:

Economy sheds 61,300 in March as job losses rival early '80s recession
Thu Apr 9, 8:59 AM
By Julian Beltrame, The Canadian Press

OTTAWA - Canada is shedding jobs at a rate not seen since the deep recession of the early 1980s, as March saw another 61,300 workers join the ballooning ranks of the unemployed.

The loss brought Canada's official unemployment rate to eight per cent, the worst in seven years.
Funny how a phone-call wishing a former Prime Minister a Happy 70th Birthday can become infused with such symbolism, real and imagined. And distorted by both the NDP and the Conservatives to distract from their own troubles.

First of all, contrary to reports of Michael Ignatieff and Brian Mulroney being spotted canodiling at Mr. Chow’s and snorkeling in the South of France, in reality all Ignatieff did was extend a courtesy call to the former Prime Minister on his 70th birthday. His only other comment on Mulroney was in response to a question at a presser in Calgary earlier this week. Here’s the answer, in full:
"Well, what I find curious, let's say. Well, when Mr. Mulroney celebrated his 70th birthday, me, as leader of the Liberal Party I sent him congratulations. I don't agree with Mr. Mulroney's policies. I'm from a different political tribe. But he did have two majority terms. Many Canadians have a lot of respect for him, and for what he did. I think we have to show some respect here. It's quite simple. Mr. Harper has shown a lack of respect towards Mr. Mulroney. Of course, there's controversy around Mr. Mulroney. But he was one of his Prime Ministers, and I have respect for the institution, and I also have respect for the person."

Quelle horror! Clearly they’re secret lovers.

Look, firstly, wishing a former PM, no matter how much you disagree with him, a happy 70th birthday seems just a rather innocuous, classy thing to do. Besides being nice, it doesn’t cost you anything. 99% of Canadians could care less, even if he sent him a birthday card and a cheque for $5. You’ll have a hard time convincing me Canadians are going to say “well, I was on the fence about that Ignatieff, but then he wished Mulroney a happy 70th birthday so forget it, he’s a neo-con!”

But maybe a few former Progressive Conservative organizers in Quebec will care, and already upset with Harper’s whole “Mulroney is not a Conservative” thing, will either not help the Conservatives in Quebec next election, or help the Liberals instead. For nothing ventured but a birthday greeting, that ain’t bad.

Distract and distort

It’s been amusing to watch the other political parties try to make hay of this, seizing on an innocuous birthday greeting to distract from their own very real failings.

Take the NDP, who in the blogsphere in particular have been playing this up as evidence of Ignatieff’s secret Conservative agenda, that it proves their constant talking points that Ignatieff is a Conservative stalking-horse.

You know, they’ve been pushing that theory for months, but it’s completely out of touch with reality, and with Canadians. Despite their firmly held view, every poll since Ignatieff took over the LPC shows that, in addition to steady NDP decline, the bulk of Liberal gains have been coming from the left of the political spectrum. It’s not Conservatives that Ignatieff is attracting into the Liberal tent, it’s left-leaning Liberals that may have lent their votes to Jack Layton, and maybe even some NDPers themselves (they’re going somewhere).

Kind of shoots a hole in the Ignatieff=Neo Con talking point. Canadians are smarter. So, seeing their support eroding to the Ignatieff Liberals, the NDP are going on the attack, trying to bolster their “Liberal/Tory, same old story” meme. Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on your perspective, they’re doubling-down on a losing strategy. They’d be better served to ask themselves why Ignatieff is consolidating Liberal support, and at their expense. Answer: Canadians are concerned about the economy, and want their politicians to make an effort to work together at addressing it, instead of blindly opposing everything and shooting-down budgets before they’re written.

Which brings me to the Conservatives. The whole moral compass commentary by Harper was pretty farcical by Harper, given his own record of broken promises, flip-floppery, flouting of election laws and constantly-shifting moral standards. But his intent is pretty clear. The economy is worsening, and his response has been woefully inadequate. So instead of focusing on me and my failings, let’s whip-up some media frenzy.

But here’s the real story:
A quick look at March unemployment (previous month in brackets):

Unemployment rate: 8.0 per cent (7.7)
Number unemployed: 1,456,600 (1,415,900)
Number working: 16,838,100 (16,899,400)
Youth (15-24 years) unemployment: 14.8 (14.2)
Men (25 plus) unemployment: 7.5 per cent (7.3)
Women (25 plus) unemployment: 5.7 per cent (5.6)

The real story is that economists are now saying this recession could be worse then the one in the early 80s:
Still, after avoiding a labour market contraction for most of last year, Canada's employment picture is now in lock-step with the U.S., which has been shedding upwards of 600,000 workers a month for some time.

If anything, the loss of so many full-time jobs and particularly in the private sector, following even weaker results in January and February, makes the latest report more "disturbing" than the headline number would indicate, said Derek Holt of Scotia Capital.

Holt said the quick pace in which Canada is losing workers points to a downside risk that labour market contraction this year will be worse that even the more dire predictions so far.

"While we've spoken to the risk of a half-million hit to employment this year, we're raising our views on the risks to the three-quarter million mark," he said.

Holt said a key difference between the current downturn and the deep early 1980s recession is that it is impacting most sectors and all parts of the country, including resource rich western Canada. The previous recession was felt most in central Canada.
Let’s keep the focus where it belongs, let’s keep the focus where Canadians want it, instead of letting the NDP and Conservatives distract the debate for partisan ends. It’s the economy, stupid.

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northwestern_lad said...

"let’s keep the focus where Canadians want it, instead of letting the NDP and Conservatives distract the debate for partisan ends."

Sorry to have to point this out Jeff, but maybe you should talk to your own party about doing just that. I don't doubt where your personal compass is on this, as I know you to be a good and honest person, but in my humble opinion, rubber stamping a budget that they say is crap, complaining about the EI system (that they built) but refusing to try to change it and the other in-actions of the Liberal Party isn't a sign of "focusing where Canadians want it".

The New Democrats have been pushing for these changes, and more, with little to no help from the Iggy Libs. So while I don't doubt where your personal compass is Jeff, please try asking your party and leader where there's is??? And why you're at it, asking your Premier the same thing. :)

Jeff said...

Cam, the Liberals have raised many concerns about the budget, and about Conservative economic policy. And you may recall I was disappointed the Liberals didn't push a little more forcefully for some changes around EI, and a few other areas.

As we both know, however, while we can raise all the issues we want, and demand all the changes we want, we don't have the ability to force them. At the end of the day, if the Conservatives refuse, the only alternative is to bring down the government and force an election, as these are all matters of confidence.

At some point, obviously, push is going to have to come to shove, and an election will be necessary. But right now Canadians don't want an election. So we need to try to make this work, keep calling on the government to get it right. And if they refuse to listen to reason, we need to make the case with Canadians why Harper is getting it wrong, to build support for an election that can then successfully force him out, and elect a government that will implement better economic policy.

That public support isn't there however, and forcing an election without public support for one, particularly in this economy, will only mean two months of NO action on the economy, except hundreds of millions spent on campaigning.

So we're left where we are. As was the case in the last parliament, the NDP is lucky in that it can vote no on confidence measures with impunity, as its numbers aren't enough to force an election no one wants. The have cake/eat it thing. The Liberals, though, have it a tad tougher in that regard.

northwestern_lad said...

Jeff.... I have never bought into this whole "vote no with impugnity" thing because in a minority parliament everyone's votes count that much more. In a majority the Opposition can truly vote without consequence because at the end of the day, one party controls all.

In a minority parliament the possibilities for the Opposition parties to get things done is so much greater, and that's the thing about this that bothers me about the Liberal position. Raising the issue means nothing if you aren't willing to vote in favour of that issue or put your own neck on the line, which is something that the Liberals have refused to do. The fact is that if all three Opposition parties agree to get something done, they can get it done. They have the votes, that's the math. If the Liberals really wanted to reform EI and weren't playing games right now, they would have two willing partners to work with in the NDP and Bloc.

As much as Canadians "don't want an election", do you really think that Stephen Harper wants to force one taking the position "I want to make EI harder for you to get access to in a recession"?. The pressure goes all ways in the House, and that's true for everyone. The fact is that in a minority Parliament the Opposition Parties are able to do more than bluster and talk, and sadly because the Liberals aren't interested in doing more than that because of the consequences, we are left to suffer. But that's just my two cents.

Anonymous said...

Jim Flaherty sent me a Christmas card. Does that mean we're best friends now?