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Ontario And The Canada-Europe Free Trade Agreement  

 

For Kathleen Wynne, Delivering On Substantive Initiatives Just Got A Whole Lot Harder

 

 


By Susanna Kelley

What an odd time for Canada to sign another major free trade deal, this time with a bloc of developed countries - the European Union.

For one thing, the countries of the EU are hardly economically robust these days, struggling, as they still are, to recover from the global shocks of 2008-09.

The deal could well throw Kathleen Wynne's plans for substantive initiatives in this province off the rails.

Canada and Ontario have still not snapped back in many ways from the 2008-09 global recession.

While numerically it has recovered all the jobs it lost in that recession, the province's unemployment rate is still higher than the national average and has been since January of 2007 - nearly seven years ago.

Ontario's manufacturing base - the backbone of the provincial economy, and the country, for decades - has collapsed.

It's been felled by multiple economic stab wounds  - the first Free Trade Agreement with the United States, the North American Free Trade Agreement, the 1990s recession, the collapse of the forestry industry, the high Canadian dollar and then the global economic wallop of 2008-09. 

Prime Minister Stephen Harper says the Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement between Canada and Europe (CETA) is the biggest free trade deal Canada has ever signed.

He says it will create jobs, and Ms. Wynne says she welcomes it.

But critics predict Ontario and Canada will lose jobs, and that the economic study the government's numbers are based on is full of faulty assumptions and was actually drawn up by the Europeans, not Canada.

No matter which side you believe, there is no doubt that first free trade agreement - the FTA with the U.S. - caused massive economic disruption and a cascade of job losses in Canada. 

What a time to start rocking Ontario with what could be another economic broadside.

 It's landing just as Ms. Wynne has signaled she is willing to take on some very substantive policy changes that affect people's everyday existence in the province.

Coincidentally, one of those is jobs.

A good debate on how to stimulate job creation in this province has just begun in a serious way.

Tim Hudak's PC's putting out a range of ideas on how to do that, and the NDP is pitching in with its own views.

But that file likely just got a whole lot more difficult with CETA.

So far the Liberals have unveiled a $265 million program to help employers hire youths. (To give credit where credit is due, this was an an NDP initiative Wynne agreed to as the price of the party's support for the last budget.)

Ms. Wynne says it is creating more than 500 jobs to date.

But her other musings on job creation so far have mostly been limited to soothing words about the future of the economy and advocating advanced manufacturing as a future job creator for the province.

The Premier has also indicted she wants to move on several other major fronts and they both cost money.

One is transit.

Ms. Wynne has made it clear that an expanded transit system is something she's very much interested in delivering and that might mean increased taxes.

But if CETA causes unemployment to rise in the province, government revenues will drop.

Ms. Wynne just derailed the Scarborough LRT in what appeared to be a politically opportunistic - and costly - jump aboard the Scarborough subway vote-getter train, along with Toronto Mayor Rob Ford and Prime Minister Stephen Harper.  Those suburban Toronto ridings are hot commodities with an election that could come as early as next spring.

Besides the fact she made expanded transit in the 905 area her first promise the day after she won the Liberal leadership last January, there are other reasons to believe she will very much want to deliver. 

Not least is that she'd have to answer to Mississauga Mayor Hazel McCallion, who helped her become leader of the Liberal Party and who is a major GTA public transit advocate. And Her Worship's wrath has put the fear of God into many a provincial politician.

The Premier is also showing a willingness to delve into the pension issue, another item that could be costly. 

With many in the middle class having lost savings in the global recession and companies pulling in the reins on pensions, the prospect of how to pay for retirement, for themselves or their aging parents, has just about everyone over 25 years of age worried.

Last week news broke that Ontario was ready to move ahead on its own to supplement the Canada Pension Plan, if the federal government continues to drag its feet on increasing both contribution and benefit levels.

The Premier says pensions will be high on the agenda when she meets later this week with Alberta Premier Alison Redford and Manitoba Premier Gary Selinger in advance of a formal gathering of all provincial and territorial premiers at the Council of the Federation meeting in November.

(On the pensions issue, the NDP s furious, accusing Wynne of stealing yet another of the party's policies. Their anger is justified. However, since the days of the universal medical care fight by the CCF's Tommy Douglas, 'twas often thus.)

Ms. Wynne has established herself fairly quickly as a Premier that is determined to bring in substantial initiatives to Ontario.

The Canada-Europe Trade Agreement may be one of her biggest obstacles.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 21, 2013

View all of Susanna Kelley's columns
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