Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Jobs, Jobs, Jobs – Repetition Doesn’t Equal Competence

If there’s anything the Ontario Liberals, PCs, and NDP agree on, it’s that too many people are unemployed (550,000 men and women). And what they’re all currently doing is trying to convince voters that electing their party will singlehandedly improve the situation overnight.

"We need to put more money back into peoples' pockets" thundered Tim Hudak on a tele-town hall with voters in Kitchener Centre on Sunday. "We're gonna drain the swamp of red tape so businesses can get back to what is important to our economy: Creating Jobs"

Such was the theme echoed, in some way or another, in most of Mr. Hudak's responses to voters here in Kitchener Centre. Local candidate Dave MacDonald only spoke twice during the call.

There is a lot of anxiety about the job market, and the jobs issue has dominated this campaign as it has all other recent campaigns in North America. Politicians are eager to capitalize on the issue and portray themselves as most able to redress it. Mr. Hudak went as far as to blame Mr. McGuinty for the "part-time, low-wage jobs" he says will disappear under him, in favour of "high paying, full-time, private sector" jobs, which will allow people to "buy a home and start a family". It’s hard to believe a heavily-indebted government like Ontario’s could make such a promise a reality.

This line of logic may seem effective in appealing to elusive "suburban, middle class" voters politicians of all stripes are convinced are the bread and butter they need to earn to win elections. However, a counterintuitive approach toward this demographic may be in order. This voter has already achieved what he’s being told to aspire for. And does he a) find things so bad that he wants a sea change in public policy or b) want the government to focus on enabling millions more to have an easier time acquiring what he did? The PCs may find on October 6th that relentlessly focusing on the suburbs trying to foment unease and anxiety about their rivals may backfire on them. Because although the Liberals' talk of stable management and laying the foundation for tomorrow's economy may also be vague, unverifiable chatter, on decision day it will come down to which party's rhetoric the voter finds less odious

The leaders’ announcements about jobs, the middle class, growth and prosperity are deceptive chimeras. We are seeing the ugly head of the global economy being reared, from migration of cheap labour to new markets, to automation and technology reducing corporate head counts and increasing productivity, to sustained anemic/negative growth, as tapped-out governments and citizens grapple with sky-high and rising debt loads (also, Ontario manufacturing relied on cheap currency to boost exports for too long). The tinkering a Canadian provincial government can do with credentialing immigrants, or its tax structure, or business regulation amounts to just that: tinkering.

Lowering the corporate tax rate by another 1.5% and further subsidizing electricity, the two economic initiatives the Hudak Conservatives are proposing, will not fire the cylinders of Canada’s “economic engine” into a GDP-growth roar. But equally doubtful are the Liberals' "green energy of tomorrow plans". Green energy is still a costly and unproven project at this point, providing a small token amount of energy, and McGuinty's wish that "1 in 20 vehicles be electric by 2020" ignores the inconvenient fact that 10% of cars being electric would bring down the whole grid.

When local Liberal M.P.P. John Milloy told me in reference to Green Energy: “The fact is we need to kick-start this that there's a market for it. People are going to start to invest and we need to incent development”, I couldn't help but admire the nobility of the objective that aimed to replace the manufacturing economy of old, while cringing at the thought of the Obama administration's disastrous implementing of similar policies.

Local NDP Candidate Cameron Dearlove, who is an employment counselor by trade, stressed to me the importance of “targeted initiatives” to help people find work, as these were what he found most effective in his experience. He critiqued the Liberals’ 2nd career program, which he said “basically funneled a bunch of money into private career colleges with no strings attached and no follow up” and stressed that NDP would be very focused on getting people back to work. And Mark Vercourteren stressed the need for healthy local food production, and healthy local small business communities which he views as inextricably linked.

Meanwhile, the business world, the economic world, and the market will continue to roll on unpredictably, no matter what some Ontario would-be politicians think. This article, about middle-aged unemployment, and this one, about the near-impossibility of future growth, should make everyone cognizant of the new reality: that everyone is a free-agent, highly transient worker in this 21st century society, who has to save as many dollars as possible if they’re lucky enough to be earning them, or make themselves useful in as unique a way possible if they’re not. Otherwise they’re going to pass a lot of rough days and nights hoping the hollow promises of candidates to inherit a terribly large deficit will come true.

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