March 14, 2019 - Head shot of Toronto Star columnist Heather Scoffield.    DAVE CHAN FOR THE TORONTO STAR

Opinion: Canada is missing a recovery plan

The glitches should have been a sign of what was to come.

We’ve all become experts at overlooking the inopportune white noise in online meetings and filling in the gaps for oblivious speakers undermined by overloaded technology.

But when Justin Trudeau and Erin O’Toole presented their economic recovery road maps one after the other this week at the Canadian Chamber of Commerce annual meeting, it was nearly impossible to connect the dots in between the glitches that riddled both their presentations.

The gaps for both the Liberal and Conservative leaders were as much about spotty policy as spotty IT.

For Trudeau, the rare address to the chamber annual meeting was a prime opportunity to give the business community some reassurance that he has a long-term growth and recovery plan in mind — a plan that would confront the immediate needs of the pandemic economy, but also set some markers to ensure spending and deficits are sustainable once we can start to recuperate.

But he didn’t go there. Instead, he assured them, “I don’t have to tell you that low interest rates mean we can afford this,” he said, referring to the hundreds of billions of dollars in pandemic response.

“We will be there to support Canadians and Canadian business — (glitch) — for as long as this pandemic lasts.”

He explained there’s no sense in setting out guidelines around spending and deficit management right now because the economic trajectory is so uncertain that fiscal discipline is meaningless.

Yes, he says Liberal fiscal policy will be responsible and sustainable, but you’ll have to wait until we stabilize, or maybe until we have a mini-budget, to find out exactly what that means.

To be fair, Trudeau’s treading water on fiscal policy has given his somewhat-new finance minister, Chrystia Freeland, time to get up to speed. She took over the finance portfolio in August and has had a crash course in managing the biggest deficit ever during a devastating health-and-economic crisis.

But soon, when the COVID-19 numbers are declining and the economy is free to open up with confidence, there will be a fiscal rule or guide-rail that will slowly set spending on a more sustainable track.

Perhaps it will all start to amount to a coherent plan, eventually, but it’s been a long time coming at a time of unprecedented spending, lending and new programs.

O’Toole addressed the forum right after Trudeau, and he wasted no time mocking the Liberals for leaning on low interest rates as a fiscal “anchor.”

True to his role as leader of the Opposition, he pointed to the Liberals’ ineptitude and blamed it for scaring away foreign investment, especially in the oilpatch.

But what would he actually do instead? It was mostly a repeat of O’Toole’s leadership campaign, which finds its roots in the days before the pandemic set in.

He would embrace natural resources, work closely with Indigenous business, renegotiate trade deals and invite Canadian companies to steer clear of China, preferably producing here in Canada, instead or at least in other democratic countries.

As for fiscal policy, he wants to reduce spending “in a balanced way,” cut taxes and spur growth. The timeline, long-term vision and details will have to wait though, until we have a full-blown election campaign.

At a time when the International Monetary Fund is urging governments to increase spending and investment to spur growth, and at a time when economists warn that austerity has undermined recoveries in the past, when would O’Toole embark on his deficit-reduction exercise?

How would that square with cutting taxes at the same time? And how would the Canadian economy grow and attract investment if we cut China out of the loop?

To be as fair to O’Toole as to Freeland, the new Conservative leader has only begun to outline for the general public what he would be like as prime minister.

Perhaps with some time, he will reconcile his populist push to retrench production in Canada with the more traditional conservative push to growth through trade and foreign investment.

But to be fair to the public, these are uncertain times where large amounts of money and major decisions on the economy are flying at us at warp speed — without much thought about efficiency, or about whether today’s income support will help tomorrow’s recovery, and how we will finance the mounting deficit over the long term.

In a recent IMF report on the recovery, Canada stands out for having bulked up its deficit more than other rich countries, carrying a bigger total (public and private sector) debt load, and a lower take-up on its job-retention efforts despite all the spending.

But the IMF also sees Canada getting that debt and deficit load under control within a few years, resuming a course of fiscal sustainability as the pandemic supports wind down.

That doesn’t happen by itself though. Neither one of the leaders can get away with blaming the gaps in their economic recovery plans on technical glitches for long.

Heather Scoffield is a columnist with Torstar Syndication Services


Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

With a ban on sit-in dining set to begin at noon Friday, Las Palmeras owner Andre Lemus is gearing up for more takeout and delivery business. He has also applied to set up and outdoor patio, where dining is allowed under new restrictions, and is selling his own branded seasonings, salsa, guacamole, tequila bags, margerita kits, and even aprons like the one he is wearing.
Photo by PAUL COWLEY/Advocate staff
Big interest in outdoor patios in Red Deer as sit-down dining banned again

City of Red Deer has tweaked its patio regulations to make it easier to get a permit

A sustainability audit for Westerner Park suggested 33 changes, including more city involvement. (Advocate file photo)
Westerner Park expands volunteer program

Westerner Park is recruiting volunteers to fill several positions. The new Volunteer… Continue reading

Black Press file photo
Appeal Court restores privileges for man who killed five at Calgary house party

EDMONTON — The Alberta Court of Appeal has restored some privileges for… Continue reading

A 19-day trial has been set for June 2022 for Chase Freed, who is accused of shooting to death a shopper outside the southside Red Deer Walmart and firing shots at two other people in the parking lot. (File photo by Advocate staff)
Man accused of killing a shopper outside Red Deer Walmart in December 2019 to go to trial in 2022

Chase Freed charged with second-degree murder and two counts of attempted murder

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
All adult Albertans to be offered first dose of vaccine by end of June: Premier

Alberta’s premier says the province will be “back to normal” when 72… Continue reading

Madelyn Boyko poses along with a number of the bath bombs she makes with her mom, Jessica Boyko. Madelyn says she enjoys making the bath bombs with her mom as it is a special time for just the two of them. (Photo Submitted)
5-year-old Sylvan Lake girl selling bath bombs in support of younger brother

Madelyn Boyko is selling bath bombs for CdLS research in honour of her younger brother

Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Bill Blair responds to a question during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on December 11, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Patrick Doyle
New regulator to stop sexual exploitation of children online: public safety minister

OTTAWA — Public Safety Minister Bill Blair says the government will introduce… Continue reading

Gordon Greenwood Elementary Grade 7 students were assigned to write about climate change. The Langley Advance Times is pleased to present a selection of their writings. (Sasha/Special to the Langley Advance Times)
Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions increased slightly in 2019: report

OTTAWA — A new report shows Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions increased slightly… Continue reading

Conservative leader Erin O'Toole holds a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, April 6, 2020. Top Tory leaders of past and present will speak with supporters today about what a conservative economic recovery from COVID-19 could look like. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
O’Toole to vote against Conservative MP’s private bill on ‘sex-selective abortion’

OTTAWA — Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole says he will vote against a… Continue reading

Eugene Kwon of Gratia Bakery and Cafe says the business will be relying on take out orders and a small patio. (Neil Corbett/The News)
Small business struggling amid COVID-19 pandemic looks for aid in Liberals’ budget

OTTAWA — A group representing thousands of the country’s small businesses says… Continue reading

Ron Howard is photographed at the "Inferno" film premiere on Oct. 25, 2016 in Los Angeles. (Buckner/Rex Shutterstock/Zuma Press/TNS)
Brothers Ron and Clint Howard have memoir coming in October

NEW YORK — Filmmaker-actor Ron Howard and actor Clint Howard, brothers, former… Continue reading

FILE - In this Saturday, March 27, 2021 file photo, Buffalo Sabres’ Taylor Hall plays against the Boston Bruins during the second period of an NHL hockey game, in Boston. The Buffalo Sabres could trade 2018 MVP Hall, who signed for just this season and is a pending free agent. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer, File)
Boston Bruins acquire Taylor Hall to kick off NHL trade deadline day

Trade deadline day in the NHL has started with the Boston Bruins… Continue reading

The Huawei logo displayed at the main office of Chinese tech giant Huawei in Warsaw, Poland, on Friday, Jan. 11, 2019. Poland’s Internal Security Agency has charged a Chinese manager at Huawei in Poland and one of its own former officers with espionage against Poland on behalf of China. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)
Huawei, HSBC agree on document deal for extradition case

HONG KONG — Chinese telecommunications equipment firm Huawei said Monday that it… Continue reading

Most Read