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Shhhhhh! Don't tell anyone: As PM, Stephen Harper's economic performance is a bust!

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Jim Stanford

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One of the most effective ways to keep a population quiet and obedient is to deprive it of information.

As a result, it should be reasonably safe for me to just report on the study released yesterday by two Unifor economists, Jim Stanford and Jordan Brennan, straight up as if I were a mainstream media stenographer rewriting a corporate press release.

That's because the comprehensive review of the performance of the governments of Canada's nine prime ministers who lasted longer than year since the end of the Second World War shows that Stephen Harper's Conservative government is an absolute bust, a flop, a dismal failure … (Thought you said you were going to report this straight up -- Ed.)

"Canada's economy has never performed worse, since the end of World War II, than under the present Conservative government," the two economists say in Unifor's press release, which by yesterday evening appeared to have been covered by no one in the mainstream media. (By the wee hours of this morning, Toronto time, a reference to the report seemed to have shown up only on a publication called Canadian Labour Reporter, plus in a post on Rabble by Stanford himself. The Globe and Mail? The Toronto Star? The National Post? The Canadian Press? Nada.)

Well, maybe they'll write something today. So let's give the professional journos their due -- they're busy writing up their advancers about Harper's transparent effort to game the system, the early-early election call many pundits are predicting will come on Sunday. Why would citizens need to know anything about the country's actual economic performance on the eve of an election when the government's misleading claims about the economy will dominate the debate?

"The Harper government ranks last among the nine post-war governments, and by a wide margin -- falling well behind the second worst government, which was the Mulroney government of 1984-93," the economists said.

Brian Mulroney. Remember him? The prime minister so bad he effectively reduced the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada to two seats and thereby paved the way for the reverse hostile takeover of Canada's conservative political movement by the Republicanized Reform Party led by neoliberal ideologue Preston Manning.

The report by Drs. Stanford and Brennan also shows that the excuses trotted out by Harper's government to back up its claim Canada's economy is "the envy of the entire world" are completely at odds with the facts.

For example, you can't blame the 2008-09 recession, as Harper's supporters like to do, at least if you go by what other prime ministers have had to face since 1946. There have been 10 recessions in that time frame, and "the recovery from the 2008-09 downturn has been the weakest of any recovery since 1946."

The researchers looked at 16 indicators of economic performance, grouped into three broad themes: work, production, and distribution and debt. The list includes measures traditionally emphasized by business types and other traditionally emphasized by social activists. Combined, they argue, the 16 indicators are a fair representation of the most common economic concerns and priorities of Canadians across the political spectrum.

In 13 of the 16 indicators, the researchers found, "the Stephen Harper Conservative government ranks last or second last among all postwar prime ministers. And its average ranking across all 16 indicators is by far the worst."

As prime minister, Harper's performance ranked the worst or second worst for job creation, the employment rate, labour force participation, youth employment, job quality, economic growth, living standards, non-residential real business investment, growth in real exports, productivity, personal income (a tie with Jean Chretien), income inequality, and household debt (a tie with Mulroney). He came sixth of nine for unemployment, by the way, so Harper's performance is not exactly stellar even when it's not dead last.

The oft-repeated claim Canada is a world leader also turns out to be bogus. Canada's growth among advanced Western nations is in the bottom half and, the researchers predict, will likely get worse this year.

"This statistical review confirms that it is far-fetched to suggest that Canada's economy has been well managed during the Harper Government's time in office," the report concludes. It has the worst overall economic performance of any government since the end of the Second World War, a superlative record of the sort a country shouldn't want its government to have.

What went wrong? Since 2011, unconstrained at last by minority government status, Stanford and Brennan argue the Harper Government has lost its way, implementing brutal fiscal austerity, emphasizing market-driven trickle-down policies and relying on consumer spending to drive the economy.

When oil prices collapsed, our manufacturing sector had already been hollowed out thanks to years of neglect, and the prime minister's Alberta-centric dream of Canada becoming "an energy superpower" was blown to smithereens.

Back in the day when I was a real reporter, rewriting press releases for money instead of just for fun, we probably would have run a story like this -- albeit deep in the newspaper -- with appropriate commentary from folks who could be depended upon to disagree, like the government itself, other Conservative politicians and maybe a spokesperson from a right-wing think tank or two. One of them could have argued some of the social measures don't belong in the study.

No more. Nowadays, while the drivel pumped out by the press agents at the Fraser Institute is copied and published without a critical word, the analysis of a PhD economist educated at places like Cambridge University and the New School for Social Research is not reported at all if it makes a strong case the government's pre-election propaganda is pure fantasy.

Stanford's and Brennan's study is called "Rhetoric and Reality: Evaluating Canada's Economic Performance Under the Harper Government." But if verifiable facts are published in a vacuum, can they be described as political reality?

Perhaps to get the media's attention they should have published a Top Ten List -- or, in this case, Top Nine, since the researchers excluded two of Canada's 11 prime ministers since 1946, Joe Clark and Kim Campbell, seeing as they held that office for less than a year.

Here they are, the Big Nine, based on their economic performance, from best to worst:

1) Lester Pearson

2) Pierre Trudeau

3) Louis St-Laurent

4) Jean Chretien

5) John Diefenbaker

6) William Lyon Mackenzie King

7) Paul Martin

8) Brian Mulroney

9) Stephen Harper

Stephen Harper, dead last, and apparently proud of it. Sheesh!

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.


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