The prime minister’s blinkered vision

McGill Tribune

Speaking last week at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper announced his vision to “undertake major transformations to position Canada for growth over the next generation.” These include changes to pension funding and immigration policy, along with a shift in focus towards selling more of Canada’s natural resources to Asian markets.

Delivered in the remote safety of Swiss neutrality, his speech is another instance of the prime minister dipping his toes into controversial measures as far away from Ottawa as possible. Much like his speech at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum in Peru four years ago in favour of a controversial bout of Keynesian stimulus, his Davos address represents a foreshadowing of what will likely become a concrete set of policies. The Tribune believes this form of policy introduction is disrespectful to the Canadian public.

It is also an example of glittering rhetorical phrases being used as sequins to distract public eyes from cuts to core public services. It is not a tough task to see the intention for cuts nestled in euphemisms like these: “for those elements of the system that are not funded, we will make the changes necessary to ensure sustainability.” And it was just as disappointing to note that Harper remained vague about the exact measures he intends to put in place, preferring for the most part to blandly state generic platitudes like “innovation is going to be critical” and “a long term culture shift has to happen.” We hold that these methods of obfuscation are equally disrespectful to Canadians.

Furthermore, the Tribune believes Mr. Harper’s vision that he laid out in Davos is both narrow and flawed. His notion of raising the retirement age from 65 to 67 would further limit the job opportunities for young workers looking to get onto the careers ladder, leading to greater youth unemployment; it would create a less competitive environment where it is difficult to retire workers who are no longer at the top of their game as well as preventing those out of work at 65 from being able to start taking out their pensions. Through his new policy to “limit the growth of spending” on pensions, it’s evident that he is making overtures to cut back Old Age Security, a government benefit system for all retired workers. If he goes ahead with this, it will deprive many retired workers of a vital source of income. 

His plans to use the Asian markets as a motor for economic growth is also a problematic strategy. It is reliant on the continued growth of the Asian economies as well as on an outdated paradigm of fossil fuel energy use. Canada ought to be focused more on spearheading the renewable energy movement through research into alternative energy resources and more sustainable forms of infrastructure. Foreseeing the phasing out of oil in favour of cleaner, more efficient technologies would be a more prescient move and one that prioritizes a sustainable planet. 

Mr. Harper needs to realign his priorities towards a more far sighted and broader minded approach than what he has offered from the Swiss Alps. Research and development in new technologies are more important than oil exports if he really wants to create a long term plan of sustainable growth; fair distributions of pensions at a reasonable age of 65 is not only sustainable, it is also desirable out of a sense of decency. Harper’s ideas are outdated, restrictive, and punitive for those who, despite having worked for their pensions, are now vulnerable and exposed. Policies based on unfair and dated principles will not lead to long-term Canadian prosperity. 

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