Counting the Cost of Harper’s Multiple Failures
World Economy

Counting the Cost of Harper’s Multiple Failures

The Conservatives in Canada portray themselves as capable economic managers. But their record proves the opposite. Far from unleashing a business-led boom, Harper has in fact presided over the weakest economic era in Canada’s postwar history.
Stephen Harper’s Conservatives have always portrayed themselves as the most capable managers of Canada’s economy. And since pocketbook issues usually dominate any election campaign, that reputation—deserved or not—served them well in the past, uniforvotes reported.
This time around, however, the economic terrain is proving less friendly. The closer the one gets to election date, the worse the economy became, undermining the “stay the course” message at the heart of Conservative strategy. Indeed, Canada slipped into outright recession in the first half of 2015. Undaunted, the prime minister shrugged this off as “a couple of weak months,” and promises better times around the corner—but only if Canadians re-elect his party.
Economists can debate whether this year’s recession—the second on Harper’s watch—is already over, or whether falling business investment and rising consumer debt will delay a rebound. But the most damning aspect of the Conservative legacy is not a short-term cyclical downturn. It is a longer-run failure to stimulate growth, job-creation, innovation, and investment.
After all, the only reason the oil price slump could tip the whole country into recession is because the economy had so little momentum in the first place. The 2008-09 financial crisis was part of the problem: but it’s not the only recession Canada has experienced, nor was it the worst. More important, the slow and inconsistent recovery from that downturn ranks as the weakest in postwar history. Then, before the damage was really repaired, Canada slipped into recession again.
The economists have developed a comprehensive portrait of economic performance under every Canadian government from 1946 through 2014, based on official data on 16 conventional indicators (everything from employment and labor force participation, to growth, productivity and indebtedness). The results refute the self-congratulatory rhetoric of Conservative speechwriters.
Far from unleashing a business-led boom, Harper has in fact presided over the weakest economic era in Canada’s postwar history. For example, from 2006 through 2014 (not even counting the current downturn), Canada experienced the slowest average economic growth since the Great Depression (measured by the expansion of GDP after inflation and population growth). Harper wasn’t even close to the next-worst prime minister: another Conservative, Brian Mulroney.
Across other indicators, too (including job-creation, productivity, personal incomes, business investment, household debt, and inequality), the Harper government ranked last or second-last among all postwar governments. Its overall ranking was the worst of any prime minister since 1946.

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