I’m starting this blog to talk about politics, though I might dive into other topics like the economy, family life and maybe even some of my other interests (nerd stuff). But mostly my interest is in talking about politics, as I’m not terribly impressed by the current state of it in Canada.
A little bit about me:
My name is James. I’m 35 years old, a husband and father of three. I studied politics for an obscene number of years, first for my undergrad at the University of Western Ontario in London, then later at York University in Toronto. I learned a lot of theories and ideas, critical thinking and philosophical and ideological models, none of which helped in the slightest when I hit the job market in 2009, smack dab in the middle of the worse recession since the Great Depression. I currently work freelance as a communications professional writing, editing, designing, etc, and also cook in a restaurant as another source of income.
Back in 2009, after going through a nasty strike at York where I was teaching, I began to hear depressing statistics about the employment rate of PhD grads. Wanting to leave the academic world behind, I thought to turn to ‘applied politics’, pursuing a career working for a political party. I duly signed up as a volunteer and proceeded to set my doctoral thesis indefinitely aside while I proved my worth volunteering with my local riding association. Five years later I quit this volunteer job, tired of being passed over time and time again for paid positions, often by people who proved less competent than me but had the right connections. I felt unappreciated and bitter, as if my years of volunteering counted for nothing. I had also become highly cynical of party politics, with its endless spin and manipulation. Why couldn’t parties just take an honest stand, stick to their convictions without focus groups and polling and strategies? Why does everything have to be part of a strategy? How about speak from the heart and build an honest relationship with people, isn’t that a good strategy? Sigh…
But what bothered me most, and still does to this day, is that not a single major party was proposing anything sensible about our economy. I think it’s pretty obvious to most people that our economy has changed for the worse in recent decades. Good jobs are harder and harder to find, even for people with tons of education and volunteer experience. Graduates are told to work for free while they live in their parents’ basement. The only jobs seem to be working in labour camps in Northern Alberta.
Well, years of studying politics may not have given me the skills to land anything other than working in a restaurant, but they have given me a fairly good grasp of Canadian history, economics and government policy. I see the problems our country is facing, from rising inequality, a shrinking tax base, crumbling infrastructure, deteriorating social services, high unemployment and higher youth unemployment, and I recognize that this is more than just a temporary downturn. These trends have been growing since the 90s and they will continue to get worse, whether or not economists say the recession is over or not.
Everyone complains of the worsening economy, and every political party claims they are the ones to fix it, but essentially the major parties all offer different versions of the status quo, a status quo we’ve had since the late 80s. The biggest issue we should be talking about is Free Trade. Its Free Trade that saw our jobs flow out of the country, taking away good family incomes, municipal, provincial and federal tax revenue, and the sort of general prosperity that communities, especially those in my home region of Southwestern Ontario, thrive on. It didn’t happen overnight, but over time companies closed up their operations and moved to where they could hire cheaper labour and avoid costly government regulations that keep the water clean and workers safe. Our manufacturing went to China, Mexico and the ‘Right-to-Work’ states in the US South, and a little while after that, our services started going to India and other countries that had a well-educated, English-speaking cheap labour force. Without these sectors we were left with little more than retail, restaurants, and natural resources. And even some of these jobs went to foreign workers, only this time since the jobs themselves had to be done in Canada, they just brought in Temporary Foreign Workers to do them for a fraction of the cost of hiring Canadians.
Of course there are still some high-end service jobs left, doctors, lawyers, fund managers, etc, that can’t be exported, but even those areas are affected by globalization and technology change. Even good sectors are being divided up into high-end local jobs and entry-level jobs that can be outsourced. This is especially hard on young people trying to enter the workforce. It doesn’t take a graduate degree in international economics to see the proof of this. Just go into a store and look at the labels. Not much made in Canada anymore. Call up a company and deal with their customer service department and see where it’s located.
What is needed is not more of the same measures that brought us to this point, nor minor tinkering or reform of the economic policy tools we’ve been using for the past thirty years (basically my whole life). We don’t need another trade deal, or an adjustment of the Bank of Canada’s interest rate. We need a break from these failed measures and a new vision for our country, a new plan for how to bring the good jobs back and keep them there.
What we really need now is a new National Development Policy (more on this later). We’ve had these in the past, most notably the National Policy of our country’s founding Prime Minister, John A. MacDonald. In essence, the ‘Leap of Faith’ into Free Trade taken by Mulroney was another National Policy, albeit a failed one. It didn’t develop us, it un-developed us, leading us right back where we were in the 1860s – reliant on natural resources with low value-added jobs, essentially a Third World economy. We need, first and foremost, to acknowledge that Free Trade has not worked, it has made us poorer as a country. Other governments all over the world, including most of Latin America and to an extent, not explicitly but I think implicitly, even the US, have turned away from Free Trade and enacted measures to promote domestic jobs.
Then we need to find ways to bring the lost jobs back that don’t throw the economy into chaos. Its dangerous, shifting gears like that, and it has to be done carefully. But doing it carefully isn’t the same as not doing it at all. A major national investment in our neglected physical (i.e. roads, sewers) and social (schools, hospitals) infrastructure would be another good way to stimulate the economy, but that’s only short term. We need to say to companies, “Hey, if you’re going to sell us stuff, you’re going to have to give us some good jobs so we can actually afford it.” That’s what the Auto Pact was, an agreement between Canada and US Car Manufacturers that in order to sell us cars they had to give us jobs making those cars. Worked for over thirty years and made Southwestern Ontario the economic engine of Canada, full of prosperous towns and cities of happy middle class families.
But before we can even think about such policies, we need to start talking about them. This needs to be the topic of our elections and debates. We need courageous politicians who recognize Free Trade for the disaster that it is to stand up and speak out. It’s become such a powerful myth that ‘Free Trade creates jobs’, no politician or party seems to have the guts to say so for risk of being labeled a ‘Free Trade denier’. That’s funny as my impression was that Free Trade isn’t nearly as popular with average people in Canada, especially here in SW Ontario. I happen to think a party could pick up a lot of votes from both the Left and the Right taking such a stand. But above all, politicians and parties need to stop thinking in terms of strategies to win power, and spin, and polls, and start talking from the heart, be honest with Canadians about how they see things. How can we make the right choice at the polls if our leaders only speak talking points? We need courage for both ourselves and our leaders to help rebuild the Canadian Dream.
WHEW! That was a mouthful. I’ll try and keep them shorter from now on. But that, in a nutshell, is my motivation for this blog. I hope you’ll keep reading, share with your friends, and comment. I’ll try to post as regularly as my hectic family and work schedule permits.