Liberals hiding out on the economy

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Canada faces its most severe economic crisis since the 1930s, and the Liberal Party -- the official opposition -- says nothing about what needs to be done to improve the economy. Surprisingly, the Liberal leader does not talk about the extent of the problems facing Canada. No Liberal offers to re-think the economic policies introduced by the Martin and Chrétien governments in light of what is now going on in Canada. And, party leader Michael Ignatieff has not said what the Liberals would do to turn the situation around, if they were to take power.

One explanation for Liberal silence is that they do not think the current economic situation is serious enough to warrant new thinking. The Liberals did vote for the Jan. 27, 2009 Conservative budget and accepted its assessment of the economy. Indeed, they took credit for the economic stimulation provided in that budget. But far from offering adequate support to Canada's faltering economy, a recent report from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) shows that by the very day budget 2009 was presented, Canada had already lost as many jobs (189,000) as the budget had planned to create in the next year.

The economic climate has deteriorated rapidly. The CCPA report points out that, in 2008, personal bankruptcies increased by 50 per cent. Over 300,000 people have lost their jobs in the last five months. The real unemployment rate adds to the official total of Canadians out of work, those part-time workers looking for full-time work, plus discouraged workers (people who have given up looking for non-existent jobs): it is now above 12 per cent.

Despite growing evidence of serious problems ahead, the Liberals have shown no inclination to question the policies they championed while holding power from 1993 until 2006. Cumulative changes made to unemployment insurance under successive Liberal governments, for instance, leave 60 per cent of Canadians without access to the insurance they paid premiums in order to access, when through no fault of their own, they lose their jobs. Where is the Liberal plan to bring back U.I.?

The Liberals privatized the Canada Pension Plan (CPP). The CPP is now borrowing money to make investments around the world, while losing money on previous bad investments inside, and outside Canada. Under the previous system contributions from employees and employers to the Canada Pension Plan were lent to the provinces for infrastructure investment in hospitals, schools, recreational facilities and transport. The Liberals should at least be admitting the earlier policy made more sense.

The Liberals were proud of putting taxpayers' money into paying down public debt, rather than using the $10 to 20 billion a year for health care, poverty reduction, child care or for research. Budget 2009 made a mockery of this false prudence by announcing $200 billion in new public borrowing to aid the financial sector, $125 billion alone to buy mortgages from the banks.

What debt repayment, and the new borrowing have in common is that both policies originated with Bay St. Public debt repayment was designed to create space for private debt issues in the bond market and then the public borrowings were needed to bailout the institutions that bought that private debt when it went bad. Do the Liberals still think Bay St. always knows best when it comes to managing and spending public money?

The crisis in the manufacturing industry, centred in Ontario, but with nationwide ramifications, requires a serious new approach to economic policy. Allowing extensive, unregulated, foreign ownership has made creative solutions more difficult in the steel industry. Creating a national transportation company is an important alternative to the bailout of failing foreign auto companies. Are the Liberals talking about the need for Canadian solutions, new crown corporations and a public sector investment bank?

The Liberal leader says he wants to listen to the people: "You can't lead, if you don't listen." But, after they voice their concerns, people want to listen back to what party leaders have to say.

In the last election the Conservatives won 51 of their 143 seats in Ontario. The Liberals must think they can get these back without needing to say anything at all about the economic issues facing Canadians.

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