Joe Oliver: Lament for a misgoverned nation

June 27 2022


Re-printed without permission.


Joe Oliver, Special to Financial Post


https://financialpost.com/opinion/joe-oliver-lament-for-a-misgoverned-nation


As they prepare to celebrate their country’s 155th birthday, Canadians are suffering at the hands of a divisive, incompetent government that has undermined prosperity, freedom, parliamentary responsibility, the independence of institutions, national unity and our country’s global standing. Unless the unsavoury confidence-and-supply agreement with the NDP unravels or the Liberal caucus rebels against an increasingly autocratic yet disengaged prime minister, we may be condemned to another three years before a despondent electorate can finally say: enough!


The evidence against the government is overwhelming.


The public’s overarching concern is rampaging inflation — at 7.7 per cent year-on- year, the highest in 40 years — which is devastating fixed-income pensioners, entry-level home buyers and lower-income Canadians, and eroding the living standards of the middle class. Yet Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland’s solution is more fiscal stimulus, more debt, more regulation and more taxes, while giving short shrift to productivity, competitiveness, private-sector investment, resource development and longer-term growth. Her April budget projected a $52.8-billion deficit for 2022-23 that falls only to $8.4 billion in 2025-26. To put that in perspective, total program spending was $473 billion last year, $140 billion above the pre-pandemic level.


Because of the government’s continuing profligacy, the inflation-fighting burden has had to be shouldered entirely by monetary policy, i.e. interest rates, which will be hiked higher and faster because the Bank of Canada, like the American Federal Reserve, at first believed inflation would be transitory. The question now is how deep the looming U.S. recession will be and how gravely Canada’s economy will suffer.


The Liberal government suspended the civil liberties of 38 million Canadians by invoking the Emergencies Act because local police would not remove trucks from Ottawa streets, which they had the power to do. It cannot conjure up a cogent justification for its assault on Charter rights and stonewalls a parliamentary committee hearing, hoping the public will lose interest. The stench of this shameful act will live on in the history books and besmirch the Trudeau legacy, along with his two citations for unethical behaviour.


Ministerial responsibility has become an empty promise — unless the minister is in the PM’s crosshairs for inconvenient integrity, as Jody Wilson-Raybould was. Falsely telling Parliament and the Canadian people that the police requested invocation of the Emergencies Act is obviously a fireable offence, but Minister of Public Safety Marco Mendicino will only be thrown under the bus if his mendacity becomes a political liability for the prime minister. Foreign Minister Mélanie Joly often seems out of her depth and is clearly not in control of Global Affairs or her own staff: witness the mortifying diplomatic attendance at a Russian embassy party.


Toronto Pearson Airport is experiencing mind-numbing delays that harm the beleaguered tourism industry, damage Canada’s reputation and massively inconvenience businesses and travellers. In yet another evasion of ministerial responsibility, Omar Alghabra, the hapless minister of transport, initially blamed that administrative fiasco on out-of-practice travellers. Meanwhile, anyone who urgently needs a passport is lining up the night before, even though applications are down 45 per cent from pre-pandemic demand.


Toronto Pearson Airport is experiencing mind-numbing delays that harm the beleaguered tourism industry, damage Canada’s reputation and massively inconvenience businesses and travellers. In yet another evasion of ministerial responsibility, Omar Alghabra, the hapless minister of transport, initially blamed that administrative fiasco on out-of-practice travellers. Meanwhile, anyone who urgently needs a passport is lining up the night before, even though applications are down 45 per cent from pre-pandemic demand.

The government opportunistically exploited the COVID pandemic to undermine parliamentary oversight and transparency and expand the role of government in the economy and peoples’ lives. Bill C-11, the Online Streaming Act, carries on in this spirit by threatening free expression by regulating audio-visual content on the internet, including potentially “misleading political communications.” In contrast, it has taken no action to challenge Quebec’s Bill 96, which significantly infringes English-language rights in the province.


The government’s uneven performance in dealing with the COVID-19 epidemic started with a refusal to ban flights from the pandemic’s epicentre, Wuhan, even though the Chinese government had itself banned flights from Hubei province to Beijing and Shanghai. It then unsuccessfully attempted to cut a vaccination deal with China, despite Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor’s still being held in brutal confinement in a blatant use of hostage diplomacy. That delayed acquiring vaccines so that in May 2021 Canada ranked 86th in the world for full vaccinations per capita, underperformance that doubtless caused more hospitalizations and deaths. Then the government introduced some of the most stringent and contradictory restrictions anywhere, until political pressure forced a temporary relaxation of the rules.


In spite of the government’s obsession with climate change and the vast sums already spent, it missed every GHG emission target it set and is on track to fall well short of its 2030 and 2040 goals. Meanwhile, hostility to the energy industry has cost hundreds of billions of dollars worth of lost financial opportunities, thousands of jobs, deep resentment in Alberta and Saskatchewan and an inability to help European allies during a geopolitical crisis with Russia. And to top it off, we are importing oil from countries infamous for weak environmental protection and appalling human rights abuses, instead of lowering net global emissions by exporting oil and gas to Asia as a substitute for higher emitting coal.


One gets the sense of a government bereft of moral authority that has lost its way, yet it may have years to continue denigrating opponents and inflicting harm on the population. The Liberals’ survival instinct could kick in, although Trudeau’s leading successor, Chrystia Freeland, shows no sign of acting differently on the economy or in her contempt for lesser mortals who dare to question her stellar performance. Perhaps Jagmeet Singh will wake up to the political risk of extending a lifeline to a government whose best-before date expired some time ago.


One can only hope because Canada could do so much better.


Joe Oliver was successively minister of natural resources and minister of finance in the Harper government.