A Time to Retool

2 minute read

Liberal Party of Canada’s convention swung into high gear just as Friday’s jobs numbers for March were released. The unemployment rate fell to 7.5%, the lowest since the start of the pandemic. The number of jobs created – 303,100 –  was triple what analysts were expecting. Both figures reflected the re-opening up of the economy in March. Good news all around, right? Not so fast. 

While it’s great to see jobs coming back, there’s understandable fear that April’s jobs report will see a u-turn, with 3rd wave cross-country lockdown measures expected to bite. This yo-yo effect is hard on the people and businesses behind the numbers, and demonstrates the fragility of a threatened Canadian economy. The employment rollercoaster, and the pain people feel at its lowest point, elucidates the need for a strong social safety net ready to catch Canadians caught up in the topsy-turvy ride. And it’s the bottom of that ride, and the future dips to come, where Liberals focused their policy proposals this past weekend. 

Successive federal governments over the past decades have been unable to maintain the social and physical infrastructure Canadians became accustomed to post-WWII. Income inequality shot up and poverty rates remained stubbornly high. The pandemic itself has created a whole host of new challenges, further exacerbating income inequality, creating over 500 new billionaires, and cutting millions of jobs.

Some suggest this yo-yo effect will cease once vaccines are widely available. Some seek a return to pre-pandemic life. What that ignores is that for many, pre-pandemic life wasn’t all that good. And what is more likely to happen is a recurrence during the next pandemic, or the next recession, or the next bursting housing bubble. And it is not a question of if, but when. Once you’ve accepted that inevitability and you accept that governments must act during a crisis, does it not make both fiscal and common sense to fill the gaps now? Surely tens of billions invested today, makes more sense than trillions later?

As has been noted, the pandemic exposed the cracks in our system and the under-investments in our social contract. While the scars of the pandemic will take years to heal, it offers a moment to fix the problems of the past. For Liberal members, their vision was outlined this past weekend. Likewise for the NDP, albeit with some hiccups. Unfortunately for Erin O’Toole, his messaging was overshadowed by regional worries about their economic future and some muscle flexing by the social conservative wing of the party.The policy debates among Liberals this past weekend were largely choreographed with a federal election in mind. Were some policies short-sighted, unrealistic, and fiscally reckless? Yes. Will every motion adopted find its way into the platform and become government policy? Absolutely not. But judging from the participation (more than 6,000 members), recent polls (Abacus has Libs +8), and the Opposition pulling back from an election, the Liberals’ focus on ambitious progressive policies is certainly good politics.

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