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Taking It To The Street

JOBS MAY BE ON POLITICAL AGENDA

AT QUEEN'S PARK - AT LAST


By Susanna Kelley


Well, finally.

A serious debate over Ontario's struggling economy, with its 7.5 per cent jobless rate, may at last be beginning.

It's been five years since the world almost ended - economically speaking.

It was in 2008 that massive U.S. bank losses became were reported and markets collapsed all over the world.

The veritable global financial services firm Lehman Brothers declared bankruptcy and the other major U.S. investment firms either went under or were taken over. Stock exchanges around the world plummeted.

Like a heartless Ponzi scheme, bad mortgage loans knowingly made by those companies, bundled and sold all over the world, had finally come home to roost.

Complete global economic collapse was only averted by the most massive stimulus spending by the U.S. government since the Great Depression. European countries followed suit. Even Stephen Harper's Conservative government budgeted for $85 billion in deficits over five years, or until this year.

Here in Ontario, in the middle of all this - 2011 - an election was held here in Ontario.

But economic collapse? What economic collapse?

Until almost the very end, both Dalton McGuinty's Liberals and Tim Hudak's Conservatives acted as if they believed if they just ignored the economic crisis, maybe no one would notice and ask them about it.

Instead, they bickered about chain gangs, foreign workers and hydro bills.

"See no evil, hear no evil" were the main campaign themes.

Eventually, at the 11th hour, the Liberals acknowledged the crisis that was on voters' minds from day one.

The voters responded by giving them a lukewarm endorsement: a minority government.

You'd have thought the parties would have learned something from that.

But for the last two years since that October 2011 election, the cancellation of two gas plants has sucked all the political oxygen out of the air down at Queen's Park.

Not that it's not important. Wasting an estimated $585 million of taxpayers' dollars in what critics say was an attempt to buy off voters in a few ridings is always worth investigating and making all voters aware of.

But look at what it has wrought: months, nay years of examining every tiny detail of the decision and transaction; a Premier's resignation; the legislature laid fallow - prorogued - for months while the Liberals elected a new leader; and only now a new Premier starting to talk about the economy.

To expend 95 per cent of the effort of three parties on the gas plant scandal for two years, for, let's face it, mostly partisan reasons, while Ontario has run the highest unemployment rate in the country for all that time, is shameful.

Finally, the politicians at Queen's Park might be getting the point.

A new Innovative Research poll showing the Liberals ahead at 37 per cent despite all that is being interpreted by some to mean the gas plant issue wasn't really resonating outside Queen's Park, the worm may have turned.

The economy is the new "it" issue that everyone is predicting the next election will be fought on.

It's about time.

Because the fallout from that 2008 near-collapse is that today, the world's major economies - including Ontario's - are still struggling.

And for most people, an underperforming economy simply means "no jobs."

And as one sage politician put it to me, campaigns are always about jobs.

The latest report from the Centre for Policy Alternatives says unemployment among those ages 15-24 was 16.9 per cent last year, higher than the national average of 14.3 per cent.

Premier Kathleen Wynne touts 500 plus jobs being created by a $295 million fund offering companies incentives of up to $6,800 each to hire Ontario youths.

But the truth is she was forced into accepting that program - an NDP initiative- as part of a deal to gain enough support to pass the 2013 Liberal budget in the spring.

To be fair, PC Leader Tim Hudak has been bringing forward, via his white papers, ideas that he says will help create jobs.

Those include a lot of cuts: tax cuts, job cuts for 20,000 public servants, spending cuts, as well as making Ontario a "right to work" province (wherein employees could refuse to pay union dues while still collecting benefits bargained by the union.)

The NDP is calling for cancellation of planned lower taxes for large companies, implementation of a tax cut for smaller ones, and legislation to ensure more processing of natural resources is done here in Ontario.

The old economic argument over whether tax and spending cuts (smaller government and austerity) or government involvement in the economy helps create jobs or worsens the unemployment rate.

And while it's hardly a new debate, it's at least about jobs - the voters' main concern - and very much worth having.

This time, however, we do have living examples to study and learn from today: the Euro Zone countries.

Some blame government bailouts of the corrupt banking systems across the world for the pain and suffering of ordinary people subsequently thrown out of work there as governments then cut spending and laid off public servants to pay for loans that financed the bailouts.

Others believe it was an overblown sense of entitlement to expensive and unaffordable social programs like pensions leading to massive debt spending that necessitated severe austerity measures in the Euro Zone.

But no matter what side you're on, even a casual observance of the Euro Zone countries indicates the jobs have not returned despite five years of severe austerity measures imposed in Greece, Spain, Portugal, and Ireland.

The recovery has not yet really taken hold in a serious way.

The U.S. is only slowly beginning to come back from the collapse that saw record numbers of Americans lose their jobs and their homes.

The partial shutdown of the U.S. government by Tea Party Republicans over President Obama's health care package, which has just thrown 800,000 U.S. public servants off the job, won't help on that front.

And in Ontario, which saw its main economic driver - the manufacturing sector - wiped out years ago as companies moved their production lines offshore where labour was cheaper, little has been done to help create jobs in our still-struggling economy other than bailing out the auto sector yet again (Remember the great U.S. Chrysler bailout of the 1980's?)

So despite the fact that the arguments on how to create good paying jobs Ontario needs is an old one, it's a at least a start.

Let a serious and sincere debate begin.

Finally.

 

About Susanna Kelley

Susanna Kelley is Editor-in-Chief and Queen’s Park Bureau Chief for Ontario News Watch. A veteran political and investigative reporter, documentary-maker, host and media commentator, Susanna oversees and has final editorial control over all news production at Ontario News Watch. Susanna has reported for the CBC, the Canadian Press and served as Queen’s Park Bureau Chief for TVOntario for 13 years. She has also hosted a number of documentaries for CBC’s The Current, CBC Radio News and TVOntario’s Studio 2. Passionately dedicated to excellence in political journalism, and having covered both Parliament Hill and Queen’s Park, Susanna believes quality political reporting is essential to a healthy democracy. You can find Susanna here: @susannakelley
Posted date : October 02, 2013

View all of Susanna Kelley's columns
Taking It To The Street
Would Ontario have lost millions of jobs, and would Canadians have to worry about its government secretly spying on them without warrants, if we'd had a truly democratic system?
October 07, 2013
After two years of the gas plant scandal obsession, Susanna Kelley says the voters' real concern - high unemployment - may finally get the attention it deserves
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September 16, 2013
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September 09, 2013
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September 03, 2013
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May 21, 2013
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April 29, 2013
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April 08, 2013
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February 20, 2013
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