The Broadbent Blog

THE HUB FOR CANADA’S LEADING PROGRESSIVE VOICES.

Disclaimer: the opinions expressed herein are those of the author and not necessarily those of the Institute.

Canada needs sound fiscal thinking, not balanced budget laws

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In last year’s Speech from the Throne, the Harper government promised to introduce legislation to require “balanced budgets during normal economic times, and concrete time lines for return to balance in the event of an economic crisis.”

This proposed legislation makes little sense in terms of sound economic policy. But it will likely be introduced as part of the federal budget, expected early next month.

As Christopher Ragan argued in a previous Economy Lab commentary, it is simplistic to think we can set out firm rules for responsible fiscal policy, the conduct of which demands a nuanced understanding of the state of the economy and of public finances.

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Do you see yourself in those who shape the news?

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Column space in Canadian newspapers remains dominated by middle-aged white males – even while our communities become increasingly more diverse.

Dylan Robertson, a freelance journalist, recently published a piece on J-Source citing a survey that showed new evidence of distorted age and gender representation among Canada’s newspapers columnists.

Seventy three percent of the 339 news and general-interest commentators at 76 English-language daily newspapers looked at in the survey were male at an average age of 58. Women weighed in as the clear minority, numbering only 27% for both national and regional columnists.

The statistics are disappointing, but they should not be surprising.

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Ottawa's oil and gas sitcom

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Just when you thought things couldn’t get any slower, Ottawa has yet another rationale for delaying greenhouse gas (GHG) regulations for oil and gas companies. Worryingly, this one comes straight from the top.

In a year-end interview with Global News, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said that he hasn’t introduced regulations to curb GHG emissions from oil and gas production because he wants to move at the same pace as the United States.

In the prime minister’s words, oil and gas “is an integrated sector continentally …our government is certainly prepared to work with the United States on a regulatory regime that will bring our emissions down.  But I think this would be best done if we could do this in concert with our major trading partner, given as I say it is a seamless industry in North America. So that’s what I’m hoping we’ll be able to do over the next couple of years.”

Over the next couple of years?

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With more seniors working already, do we need to raise the retirement age?

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For the first time ever, the percentage of Canadian seniors aged 65 to 69 who are still working rose to more than one in four in the autumn of 2013.

As shown by Statistics Canada, while the life expectancy of Canadians has been steadily rising, the average number of years spent not working has actually been stable since the mid-1990s – due to the fact that more and more seniors continue to work past the traditional age of retirement.

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“Toxin Toxout”: it’s the green economy, stupid!

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Five years ago, when Bruce Lourie and I started work on our first book, Slow Death by Rubber Duck:  How the Toxic Chemistry of Everyday Life Affects Our Healthit wasn’t immediately obvious to some why two environmentalists would concern themselves with toxins in the human body. The topic didn’t fit neatly into the “environmental issue” pigeon hole. “Isn’t that the domain of yoga enthusiasts and nutrition nuts?” we were occasionally asked.

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Elimination of poverty requires a dedicated plan

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Surrounded as we are by the tunes and decorations of the holiday season, Industry Minister James Moore’s recent uncharitable comments about child poverty and hunger invoke inevitable comparisons to Charles Dickens’ famed miser Ebenezer Scrooge. One could easily imagine Scrooge haughtily asking his nephew, “Is it my job to feed my neighbour’s child? I think not.”

The spirit of Moore’s comments offend the many Canadians who do think that if their neighbour’s child goes hungry it ought to concern them, that our responsibility for each other goes beyond the walls of our own homes. The attitude behind such comments is far from admirable, and disappointing to hear voiced by any elected official. It’s a position far from the values of Canadians.

Perhaps more disturbing from the Federal Ministry of Industry, however, is the comment that poverty is not Ottawa’s problem.

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Jim Flaherty, pensions, and economic doublespeak

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Finance Minister Jim Flaherty says the economy is too weak to support a modest, phased-in increase in Canada Pension Plan (CPP) premiums divided between employers and employees.

This is disputed by experts, and also contradicts Conservative messaging in two important ways.

First, in every other context, from the Speech from the Throne, to the recent Economic and Fiscal Update, the Conservatives have bragged about Canada's economic performance and highlighted the chances of a strong recovery. Except when it comes to the CPP debate, "the land is strong."

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The case for wage-led growth

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The standard view in economics and in policy circles is that wage increases come at a cost that impacts individual firms negatively. According to this view, wage increases also lead to losses in a firm’s competitiveness in foreign markets. Thus, until the advent of the global financial crisis, mainstream authors paid little attention to the fact that wage growth had lagged behind the sum of productivity growth and inflation, in most countries and for several decades, and that as a result wage shares had fallen. There was also little concern with the rise in wage dispersion— the gap between the income share of the top 1% and the rest that became a part of the lexicon during the Occupy Wall street movement.

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How many Canadians have "middle-class jobs"?

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There is broad agreement across the political spectrum that we need to create more 'good middle-class jobs', especially for young people leaving the educational system, recent immigrants to Canada, and aboriginal persons.

Middle-class jobs can be seen as those which provide decent pay, working conditions, and benefits; a measure of employment security; and, above all,  opportunities to build skills and progress over time in a career. In today's labour market, these kind of jobs generally require a professional or advanced technical qualification acquired through postsecondary education.

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Flaherty's EI surplus sleight-of-hand

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The Parliamentary Budget Office has come out with a report suggesting that the Conservatives will likely balance the budget ahead of schedule. But, and it’s a big but, they also found there would be no balanced budget in 2016 if there were no Employment Insurance (EI) surplus. 

The Conservatives' use of the EI surplus to pay for a balanced budget deserves closer scrutiny.

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