As buzz grew over the past few weeks that Prime Minister Stephen Harper was about to drop the writ, it looked like Canada was heading into another Seinfeld election. You know, an election about nothing.
Probably like many of you, I was wondering why the good burghers in Ottawa would want to send Canadians to the polls once again. Parliamentary dysfunction? Nothing new about that. A test of the leaders’ popularity? Well, OK, but look at the folks we’re dealing with here — not exactly McCain-Obama material on the charisma scale, are they? And after all, does this country really need a federal election every two years? That way lies American-ness.
Anyway, this is the way I had been thinking. And then, in the days leading up to Sept. 7, when Harper set the Oct. 14 date, a very good reason for an election reared its head. It’s got all the earmarks of a keeper, one that concerns every man jack in the nation, and one that is veritably crying out for approaches that are creative, bold and clearly defined along ideological lines.
In a catchphrase: It’s the economy, stupid.
In the second quarter, Canada’s gross domestic product grew by a paltry annualized rate of 0.3%. Granted, following on the heels of a 0.8% decline in GDP in the first quarter, any increase might look like good news — at least the country avoided a recession as commonly defined. But to be sanguine about such unimpressive growth is to miss the point. As Merrill Lynch economist and sometime Canadian Business columnist David Wolf has pointed out, government spending accounted for all of the GDP hike in the second quarter; the economic activity for which the private sector was responsible (about four-fifths of the economy) actually shrank, as it did in the first quarter. Forget the crisis in the States — we’ve got trouble here, too, guys.
Unfortunately, on the economy, Canada’s governing parties have been pretty much the same in recent years — which is to say, they have governed largely according to the dictates of political expediency rather than long-term vision. The good news is there is now plenty of room for politicians to differ over how to address a growing economic challenge. (Tax cuts? Deficit spending? Price controls?) Now is the time to offer Canadians real choices about the future of their country.
If our politicians can pull that off for a change, then this federal election might turn out to be about something after all.