This election campaign wasn’t about the economy
Monday’s election is just as likely to be decided on the niqab or brothels as it is on the economy
Photo by Charlene Vickers
When this election campaign began two months ago, the main party leaders pledged to focus on the economy.
“Now is not the time for the kind of harmful economic schemes that are doing so much damage elsewhere in the world,” Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper said as he kicked off the 78-day campaign.
“If you want to create jobs and grow the economy, you have to give the middle class a real and fair chance to succeed,” said Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau then.
In those early August days, New Democratic Party Leader Tom Mulcair vowed that his number-one priority would be to “kick-start the economy and get Canadians back to work.”
Headline writers and pundits predicted that the economy would dominate the campaign.
Now, with just two days left in the campaign, a fundamental debate over the economy has yet to emerge.
There are differences among the major parties. Harper’s Conservatives are sticking with their old-time religion, one that looks on the free market to sort out all difficulties in the national economy.
The Liberals and NDP envisage a more positive, if modest, role for government.
There is also some debate over what might be called household economics — such as who gets which boutique tax breaks.
Yet the needs of the overall economy have barely been addressed by any party.
Both the Liberals and NDP say they would reform the Employment Insurance system to make it more responsive to part-timers and other engaged in so-called precarious work. But they don’t specify how.
Both opposition parties also talk of increasing Canada Pension Plan benefits. But they don’t say by how much. In this year’s platform, the NDP has quietly dropped its 2011 pledge to eventually double CPP benefits.
Can new jobs be created to replace those lost by the decline in manufacturing? The Liberals would spend about $300 million a year encouraging businesses to be innovative. Their platform mysteriously talks about promoting “incubators and accelerators.”
The NDP, like the Conservatives, would offer tax breaks to manufacturers.
All three major parties accept the globalization agenda in that they favour free-trade deals. The Liberals insist that such deals be “properly negotiated and implemented.” The NDP would ensure that free trade pacts “support Canadian jobs.”
In that context, it is important to note that Mulcair has not said he’s unequivocally opposed to Harper’s just-completed Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal with the U.S. and 10 other nations. He just says the pact should be renegotiated in order to improve it.
Trudeau says he is withholding judgment until after the election.
Income inequality? The Conservatives don’t address it. The NDP would direct a little more to the working poor. The Liberals would rejig the tax system to favour those earning between roughly $45,000 and $200,000 – at the expense of those earning more than $200,000.
As efforts to reduce income equality, the Liberal and NDP schemes are more than nothing. But they are hardly transformative.
Politically, none of this may matter. In this campaign, when the leaders talk about the economy they are not trying to lay out well-considered alternatives for debate. Rather they are talking in code.
When 56-year-old Harper talks of the need to stay the economic course, what he’s really saying is that Trudeau, 43, is a callow youth and Mulcair, 60, a wild-eyed socialist.
When Mulcair talks of encouraging small business, what he’s really saying is that the NDP is no longer left wing.
When Trudeau boasts that he’ll run deficits for three years, what he’s really saying is that he’s bolder than balanced-budget aficionado Mulcair.
When Trudeau and Mulcair talk of the need for change, they are not appealing to those who dislike Harper’s economic policy. Rather, they are appealing to those who dislike Harper.
Will Monday’s election be decided on the economy? Perhaps it will. But it’s equally likely the outcome will be decided by how Quebecers view the niqab or whether voters in the 905 region outside Toronto believe Harper’s claim that Trudeau wants to set up brothels in their neighbourhoods.
This article originally appeared in The Toronto Star.