February 19, 2015 – Anna Mehler Paperny, Global News
Canadians are struggling in today’s economy far more than the federal Conservatives realize, NDP and Liberal opposition critics say.
They point to analysis in a Global News series on Canada’s financial instability trapas proof the post-recession recovery is, for many families, an unfulfilled promise.
A spokesperson for Employment and Social Development Minister Pierre Poilievre defended the government’s record on the economy.
“Our Government’s jobs plan for trade, training and tax cuts has resulted in one of the strongest job creation records in the G-7, with over 1.2 million jobs created since the depths of the recession,” he wrote in an email.
“We understand that hard-working Canadians know better than the Government how to spend their own money and that’s why our Government has provided tax relief over 180 times since taking office.”
Government response: What the feds had to say about Canadians’ labour instability trap
“The narrative of the current government is that you’ve never had it so good. And there’s a huge disconnect between Harper government talking points and the realities faced by Canadian families,” Liberal MP Scott Brison said in an interview.
“The Conservatives are out of touch: Canadian families are tapped out.”
NDP MP Nathan Cullen said it’s ironic a government that continues to argue the most important things to Canadians are jobs and the economy has been obliged to push back its pre-election budget in the face of falling oil prices.
“They want to talk about anything other than the economy right now,” Cullen said. “They are delaying a budget for at least two months based on the price of one commodity.”
Both Cullen and Brison pointed to extended periods of unemployment for Canadians and persistently high youth unemployment as significant causes for concern, especially the “scarring” effect of having youth out of the workforce.
READ MORE: Why isn’t Canada’s workforce working?
“Parents and grandparents are, to an unprecedented level, supporting children, young people who graduated from university or college … who simply can’t support themselves financially,” Brison said.
“Young Canadians desperate for work experience are being forced into unpaid internships that are, in some cases, designed to circumvent minimum wage laws.”
READ MORE: 3 degrees, no job
(He also noted cutbacks to Statistics Canada’s budget aren’t helping “substandard” labour force data: While most politicians agree unpaid internships are a problem no one has any idea how many of them there are or how much that figure’s grown.)
Both also slammed the Tories’ income-splitting plan, which analysts have found would overwhelmingly benefit the wealthiest 15 per cent of Canadians and favour single-earner households, encouraging at least one parent (often women, because of traditional parenting gender roles and persistent inequalities in earning power) to stay out of the workforce altogether.
Cullen is also particularly concerned by the billions in “dead money” sitting in corporate coffers thanks to tax cuts that were ostensibly meant to boost jobs and economic investment.
And he slammed what he sees as the feds’ overemphasis on oilsands crude as an economic driver. “The government, I think, has put all its eggs in one basket.”
He said the NDP would provide direct support to boost the manufacturing industry and encourage crude refining within Canada rather than exporting bitumen. (The economic wisdom of the latter has been up for debate among economists.)
“And so for those that have seen persistent unemployment, or precarious employment, this is their entrance back in.”
Both were more coy as to what specifically their respective parties would do to fix things.
The NDP announced plans for universal $15-a-day childcare last fall. While hailed by many as a start, at least, on a national strategy Canada needs, it was also criticized for not being tied to income. (Cullen said their aim in this case was “simplicity and fairness.”)
Brison lamented the Liberals’ universal childcare plan from a decade ago — but wouldn’t say exactly what his party would do on the issue if it forms the next government. He said the Liberals would replace income-splitting with something more progressive but wouldn’t say what, although he referenced the Working Income Tax Benefit, which provides financial assistance to low-income people who are employed.
And while he emphasized the need to work with the province on subsidizing ongoing skills training, details remain fuzzy.
“We need to support people throughout their career and life cycle, and help them learn and relearn. … We need to invest in people,” he said.
“The cost of talented Canadians being shut out of the workforce because they don’t have the right skills is far greater than the cost of helping them get those skills.”
Cullen argued investing in industry innovation and research will help make precarious jobs more permanent.
“The fundamental question,” Cullen said, “is, ‘Are people better off than they were nine years ago?’ And by every significant measure, middle-class Canadians are not.”