What’s next for Canada’s economy?

Last week’s column was not exactly uplifting and cheery, but I think it was an accurate assessment of what Stephen Harper’s Conservatives have done to destabilize our national economy.
With that being said, all is not lost. This week, I would like to share some thoughts on what our federal government should have done—and can do—to better protect our families and employers during difficult economic times.
Last week’s column highlighted several problems with how Stephen Harper and his Conservatives have mismanaged our economy. If you’ll recall, the Conservatives needlessly gave away billions of dollars to some of the richest companies on the planet as an incentive to develop our oilsands.
The time, energy, and money they spent promoting the development of our oilsands resulted in a huge economic boom in Alberta, but also resulted in a soaring Canadian dollar that essentially destroyed much of the manufacturing, forestry, tourism, and other sectors of our economy.
Where we once had a regionally-balanced national economy, we have become almost completely dependent on oil exports from Alberta alone since 2005.
With the collapse of oil prices, however, Mr. Harper’s reckless gamble has gone bust. And without any other economic drivers, the Canadian economy now is facing an uncertain future.
As sad as this reality is, though, it didn’t have to be this way. New Democrats for years called for national strategies to assist the manufacturing and forestry sectors, among others.
Investments in education and training, technology, and the matching of unfair subsidies in the U.S. and elsewhere could have kept mills and factories open and profitable had the government acted on these issues.
Rather than spending a bit of money to ensure we had plenty of skilled workers and competitive companies to employ them, the Harper Conservatives just cut billion-dollar cheques to Exxon and Shell, who would have developed the oilsands on their own without incentives.
Jack Layton and our NDP caucus consistently and repeatedly called upon the Harper Conservatives to change their course of action, but they insisted we were wrong and that all was good.
It’s clear now that we weren’t and it wasn’t.
So what now? Well, I think there are two ways to look at the problem: what to do to help the situation today and what to do to help our situation in the medium to long-term.
You’ll recall a week or so ago that Canada lost 20,000 jobs in just 24 hours. Some analysts believe this is the tip of the iceberg and that we again are headed towards a recession in this country.
Today, less than 40 percent of workers who pay into the EI fund on their paycheques would qualify for those benefits if they lost their job. This number should be much, much higher but especially with more job losses on the horizon.
The federal government also could take some steps to secure private pensions plans for workers. Many plans are underfunded as it is but if the stock market crashes or sees a decline, then the assets in these funds will be insufficient to cover the liabilities.
You’ll recall the situation at Buchanan Forest Products a few years back, and how those workers lost their pensions and severance pay and had no recourse.
Ensuring that employees and pension plans are given a higher status during restructuring or bankruptcy proceedings, and that companies keep their pension funds topped up, are simple steps the government should take today and would cost taxpayers exactly zero dollars.
Looking further down the road, the federal government again could take some simple steps to help improve the income and security of Canadian families and businesses.
Improving and enhancing the Canada Pension Plan would ensure all working Canadians would be able to retire in dignity, as they once did.
Investing in education and training, cutting taxes for small businesses, and finally implementing a strategy for key economic sectors like forestry, manufacturing, finance, tourism, and (yes) oil and gas will help enable those industries to better weather future economic storms, bring our national economy back into balance, and put an end to the boom-and-bust cycles we’ve been captive to for more than a decade under the Conservatives.
Canada is facing an uncertain economic future. It didn’t have to be this way but here we are.
It’s time for a new federal government that will take the much-needed steps to help Canadian families today and in the future, and Tom Mulcair and Canada’s NDP are ready to provide that leadership and to be that government.