Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Overcomplicating the simple mess of how we can't win on the economy

Some folks recently have posited the fact that the Conservatives lording over their "Economic Action Plan," spouting nonsense about how it saved Canada and such, is such a useless tactic that if the Liberals really wanted to bite back against it, they could. But, they simply aren't, so they're letting the Conservatives own the issue.

Well, to point out, it's a lot more complicated than that (ironic considering the rest of this post). Owning economic issues when you're not in government and when there is no real direct crisis simply isn't that easy. Even in 1993, a good portion of the campaign was made on issues relating to Chretien's social liberal inklings, with Martin's business liberalism thrown in there almost as an afterthought on many occasions, aside from the deficit reduction, where he took priority. But even then, most people didn't vote for the Liberals because of the very technical and deep issues surrounding complicated economic and fiscal policies. They went simple, they went social, and they won.

Come back to this day and age, and the Conservatives have a big advantage over us because they can simplify the economic issues down to the talking points of we survived the Great Recession, we'll bring in tax cuts, and some day down the road we'll deal with the deficit.

How do you compete with that? Seriously, ask yourselves, how many voters do you really think are going to be persuaded by us telling them the fairly complicated notion of how former Liberal government decisions during the 1990's and early 2000's stopped many of the mergers and policies that sprouted in the United States that allowed for the large mess of risky mortgage betting and black market trading that saw the entire economy nearly collapse in one day? Even if you point out "we stopped the Mulroney deficit" many times to people, you'll have to explain exactly how we did it for them to be persuaded by it, because lets face it folks, we cut government services to shreds in order to achieve what we did. The exact same thing Harper and co. will propose, except with a much more effective and modern message. Or how about explaining to some grandma in Crowfoot how Harper wouldn't have even addressed the crisis if it hadn't been for a series of complicated parliamentary maneuvers regarding coalitions and the powers of the Governor General (that are completely legal under our system!) by three Opposition parties who had their asses handed to them in an election two months before?

The fact is that simplicity beats out complicated and technical policy any day of the week, and we hold no cards that give us an advantage on that front. The Harper government simply controls the issue, because they can make it simple. We cannot. Even if we had started trying to own this issue earlier on, we would have failed. Spectacularly. Because, while we are absolutely right in what we say, its just too damn complicated to explain to the average voter in a 30-second ad. Like the freakin' Green Shift. It took me two days to understand what goes where.

Which is why Iggy is going around simplifying issues that the Conservatives have fallen back on: funds for education and healthcare, respect for democracy, making us look better in the world, fixing the pension mess that Flaherty managed to get us in to. Harper is an arrogant twirp who shows no respect for voters and seems to think spending billions on unneeded planes and prisons and corporate giveaways while we're in the largest deficit in our history is a good idea - that's the kind of message that helps you win elections!

So yes, we could have done better on the economic file. But we simply cannot own it right now. Which is why we're tracking to the left, why we're focussing on social issues more than economic policy - that's where our current advantage lies. There simply isn't any green grass on the other side at the moment.


  1. The reason Martin "slayed" the deficit was because of NAFTA and the GST (Mulroney feats).
    Liberals got elected by promising to get rid of both.
    We all know what happened.

  2. Rotter: The Liberals would NEVER have deleted a revenue stream, GST or not. They may have tried to change the name of the tax, but reducing the government revenue stream in a significantly stupid way? NEVER. Instead, they DID cut some taxes to stimulate the economy as per the Red Book (which had an 80% rate of compliance).

    Harper? Against the advice of most all Canadian economists he cut back on the GST - and created the structural deficit condition the government finds itself in. Idiotic move. Obviously he spent more time at U of Calgary learning the "Calgary School" of political backroom hackery, their woefully inadequate NeoCon economic classrooms.

  3. Rotterdam,

    Incorrect: Martin slayed the deficit because of his and Chretien's and the entire federal cabinets willingness to buckledown and cut spending by such huge amounts it would put David Cameron and George Osborne to shame. Also, Chretien never campaigned on getting rid of NAFTA, and they always said they wanted to simply shift the GST, not get rid of it.

    Or what Western Grit said.

  4. '...they wanted to simply shift the GST, not get rid of it...'

    Chretien did try to merge the GST with prov taxes, into the HST,
    only the Atlantic provinces bought into the scheme.
    BUT many Canadians believed Chretien was getting rid of the GST, including Sheila Copps, who put her job on the line, ended up having to resign.

    Chretien promised in the 1993 Red Book to renegotiate NAFTA, to protect “Canadian Culture and Identity.”
    The USA Congress was in the process of approving this agreement, it was not reopened, Chretien signed the agreement.

  5. Changing details of NAFTA does not equal getting rid of NAFTA. Even John Turner liked free trade, he just didn't like the FTA negotiated by Mulroney because of how easily it capitulated to the Americans demands.

    Also, what people believe and what is reality seems to be a reoccuring disconnect, doesn't it? You're also forgetting the fact that Martin originally proposed turning the GST back into an MST.

  6. I think the Party's probably trying to reserve judgment on the EAP until the next AG report comes in with a better picture on just how many (almost all short-term) jobs were even created from it; the CPC's no's look very inflated, but the LPC doesn't want to go all half-cocked on it. They ARE quite concerned that so much of it was on one-off wasteful or vanity projects, instead of investing in whole new industries like green technology to pruduce long-term jobs AND help the environment at the same time.

    I take your point that it can be a difficult case to make in the 30 second spots, but think you're wrong about simply ceding this whole territory to them, though: they're manifestly NOT better than the LPC at managing the economy: it's the LPC's fundamentals that prevented the recession from being worse in the first place, and the CPC's tax cuts actually probably made it worse than it would've been, and are making the recovery more shallow than it should be, and may actually trigger a new made in Canada one from the housing bubble & overextended household debt holders they created by relaxing the mortgage rules too much a couple years ago.

  7. I never said we should cede all of our territory on it, just that I think that betting a lot of our chips on a fairly weak hand is a bad call. But you're absolutely right about everything else; the question is whether or not that will help us at all, and whether its a message that we can somehow simplify for the general public to understand. I just don't see the way we can.