The Scene. Thomas Mulcair had tried to reason with the government.
“According to StatsCan, of the 300,000 people who have lost their jobs since the election, only four out of 10 workers have qualified for EI. Parliament has spoken and called upon the government to reform employment insurance. Today, the conference board repeated that,” he said. “Why is it doing nothing to help?”
“Mr. Speaker, let us not quibble about the statistics that he is citing,” sighed Diane Finley, accusing Mulcair of misconstruing the situation and “playing petty partisan politics with the futures of real people.”
Now, the NDP deputy leader was merely mad, yelling and pointing across the aisle. “Mr. Speaker, in September, the Conservatives were saying there would be no recession and no deficit. In November, it was a technical recession and small surplus. In January, it was a recession and some deficit. In the past 24 hours, both the parliamentary budget officer and the TD Bank are predicting record deficits and a long recession,” he reported. “What purpose is served by continuing to misstate the facts as she just did on the deficit, the recession and unemployment? Start telling the truth to Canadians. Start respecting the votes in the House and we can start implementing resolutions like the EI proposals adopted two weeks ago. Start helping Canadians and stop lying.”
The Conservative side howled at the allegation. The Speaker reprimanded Mulcair. And Jim Flaherty stood to offer a rare response.
“Mr. Speaker, the budget that we presented only weeks ago in this House made economic assumptions that were more pessimistic than the average of the private-sector forecasters,” he said for the sake of self-congratulation. “We are going to have a lot of opinions about the recession and about the rate of negative growth this year. Having said that, all of the economists say they did not see the recession coming. None of them saw the recession coming and that is why we have made assumptions below the predictions of the private sector economists. I understand the member opposite is not familiar with that because he did not read the—”
The Speaker cut him off there, the Finance Minister’s time having expired.
On the matter of what the economists knew and when, Flaherty was at least half right. Indeed, on October 6, 2008—a week before the federal election—Canadian Press reported that the country’s leading banks were predicting not a recession, but “something worse than a recession.”
And, in fairness, not all those identifying themselves as economists were so pessimistic.
On Sept. 15, Stephen Harper had surmised that, “if we were going to have some kind of big crash or recession, we probably would have had it by now.”
Eleven days later, and just one day after TD Bank had warned that the global economy was headed for a “mild recession,” Harper amended his prediction to warn that only Stephane Dion would bring on such a downturn here. “The only way there is going to be a recession is if they’re elected,” he said of the Liberals during a campaign stop in Alberta.
By election day, the Prime Minister was limiting his predictions to that which he could seemingly control. “We’ll never go back into deficit,” he wrote in an op-ed for the Toronto Star.
Little wonder perhaps that Flaherty and the Finance Department were reluctant to trust the more optimistic projections of the so-called economists when writing the budget. But then pessimism is hardly an answer either.
With Kevin Page, the independent officer of Parliament assigned to scrutinize the government’s accounting, was telling a committee yesterday that Flaherty’s projections weren’t gloomy enough—the deficit over the next two years now projected to be a little over $70-billion—Conservative Mike Wallace appealed to the intrinsic hope of humanity. “I believe part of the issue facing Canada and the world is we need some of the positive stuff,” he said. “And when the positive stuff does come out it tends to get discounted immediately.”
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