Are we better off with Harper? -

Are we better off with Harper?

A new Conservative ad says ‘We’re better off with Harper.’ It’s an awful talking point, but here are the numbers to put the claim to the test.


The tagline from the latest CPC ad is “We’re better off with Harper.” This phrase has a long history, going back at least to Ronald Reagan’s “Are you better off than you were four years ago?” in the 1980 U.S. presidential election. The CPC seems to think that that if asked, most people would say that they were better off than they were before Stephen Harper took power.

I hate, hate, hate these sorts of talking points. The proper question to ask is, “Are we better off than what we would have been if the CPC government had adopted a different set of policies?” In order to answer this question, you’d have to specify what the alternative policy strategy would have been, and work through what we would have seen under this counterfactual. (For more on this point, see here.) No opposition party has ever specified what they would have done differently over the past eight or nine years, so this kind of exercise is not possible.

But to the extent that the CPC will claim that the economy has improved under Harper and that the opposition parties will claim that it has gotten worse, here are some of the relevant data. Keep in mind that the changes are the result of a combination of what the Conservative government could control, and what it couldn’t. If you’re going to blame the CPC for the ravages of the recession, you have to give them credit for the boom years of 2006-07.

The point of comparison is between the latest available data and the last data point before the Conservatives took office in February 2006: January 2006 for monthly data, 2005 Q4 for quarterly data, and 2005 for annual data. All dollar figures are corrected for inflation.

[Updated to include federal debt numbers]


Let the cherry-picking begin.




Are we better off with Harper?

  1. Before Harper? You mean back when we had a surplus, data and science….. and a good reputation in the world?

    Are you mad??

    • Ha ha Emily. You’re going to explode with rage when Harper wins next year’s election.

      • Sources ….for any of that?

  2. The thing that stands out for me is confirms my opinion that averages and percentages of income are pure bs in the real world. Those numbers probably aren’t any worse in terms of economic equity than the previous LPC govts; but just look at the bottom 20%…a $1400 increase in take home pay in 5 0r 6 years. That’s a whopping 100 bucks a month and some change in your pocket[ and that’s over 6 years…not from year one[05] i presume] Meanwhile a guy in that top 20% got to take home another $11400…i make that pret nigh on a cool grand a month extra in the pocket[ at least after 6 years] The MC guy gets a staggering $260 a month to blow on beer and popcorn…yipee! Ok, give the guy credit, i assume these are after inflation, so Harper hasn’t taken us backward. Nor has he enriched the 1% – although how much of that is simply down to the fact they haven’t yet recovered their 08/09 speculative/investment losses, who can say? So, the gap is still growing between the bottom 20% and top 20%, no matter how anyone tries to spin it.
    Percentage is perhaps an unavoidable and handy benchmark for economists. In the real world it doesn’t mean a lot.

  3. Of course we are better off with Harper. It is why he has won so many elections.

    • Not really. he fooled everyone because he had to keep his mouth shut till he got a majority. Now that his mouth is open, he ended up more of a fool than anyone could imagine. Obama hates him, I mean he really hates him (called him lumpy.) That’s all I’m going to say as the rest is like quick sand.

      • Not quick sand as much as conspiracy theories and Lib talking points

  4. Hey, this is a fascinating summary. Thanks for putting it together, Mr. Gordon.

  5. Strange thing this talking about Harper, it seems people automatically discuss money or economics, which is predictable because that’s what he talks about mostly, no matter what his performance. One million jobs, we must never forget that as it’s been pounded into our brain for 6years, nothing more but hey a million sounds good. Then we have the cut backs and cancellations of projects including Canada Post and the military including the Arctic where he didn’t hold back 20 million to tag his face onto a rotten old boat that belongs to Britain and has nothing to with our sovereignty other than the rock it broke up on underneath it. There’s more but who cares.

    There is however a glaring, smelly, brownish aspect to this guy who really wants to be a statesman if not on his accord then he”ll try to get there by displaying his goose like, till I’m dead love relationship with Israel who reciprocates with a peaceful nomination that the world is laughing at right now as we speak. There is more but who cares. Yes we are better off without Harper, a way better off. If you don’t believe me ask the Birds, frogs, salmon, lakes, oceans, streams, trout, First Nations, non white children, 1500 missing FN women, Arctic, United Nations, NATO, pot smokers, Veterans, Pierre Poutine, pipeline proponents, environmentalists, Temporary Foreign Workers, British Columbians, Nova Scotia, CUPE, anyone that lives near a train track….thanks I’m not done but it’ll do.

    • Indeed.
      Gordon put the “Let the cherry-picking begin.” line at the wrong end of the piece.

  6. It’s pretty logical that Cons would use and old Reagan slogan, when you think of it.
    Reaganomics, tax-cuts, trickle-down economics we’re shown not to be effective and Harper and his gang are taking the same route.
    Meanwhile, many companies are sitting on mounds of liquidity, not hiring, nor investing in research and development.
    Trickle up, indeed.

  7. It has nothing to do with numbers for this government and the numbers wont mean didly squat anyway, it’s the skipper of the ship, and Harper will find as time goes on, he can promise Canadians the moon, but if he(harper)don’t step away from the party soon even before the next election, there is a chance this government may find themselves in a similar situation as Sir John Franklin expedition, a part of the history books.

    • You believe that the Canadian people will just ignore the results that Harper produced because they personally don’t like Harper?

      (Why? because he is too fat?, too bland, reminds them of their parent’s when they were living at home?)

      • Corruption and moral bankruptcy will likely play a big part in his defeat. Too many scandals and convictions, and a general attitude that his party is above the law.

        • How’d that line of thinking work out in Ontario?

          • Ontario thinks differently John….we tend to keep pulpits out of things.

          • Now we’re equating Mulcair or Trudeau with the bozo who ran the Tory campaign?

        • Really? Where were you during the Liberal scandal of scandals; Where were you during all the provincial screw-ups when the NDP had the reins? (BC, Sask) Does a couple of ex CBC reporters who are now senators (Duffy and Wallin) sufficient to cry general corruption? If you want real corruption how about Quebec bridges, overpasses etc etc I think the real problem is the PMO concept that was brought in by Trudeau I supposedly staffed by experts to give expert advice but now shiver if a bad press is threatened and make the matter worse. Now that you can lay at Harper’s door. He should can the whole works and give Ministers back the authority they should have. And who is above the law if he takes measures to jhave these cats answer as appropriate?

  8. It would be extremely valuable to put up the same chart with the US numbers and the Ontario numbers and/or France’s numbers. (France because in 2012 they elected President Hollande of the Socialist Party & Radical Party of the Left )

    How has Harper’s policy and leadership done relative to Obama’s and McGuinty/Wynne’s?

    The world went through a generational economic meltdown and Canada is on the other side so the Canadian numbers in isolation do not tell the true story any more than the Canadian numbers from Harper’s 2006-07 (before global recession) show that Harper was super outstanding.

  9. Terms of trade? beers and pizzas per capita due to worldwide resource /commodities demand

  10. The whole premise of this piece is flawed. The CPC ad may ostensibly invite the listener to consider the economic performance of the Harper govt. since 2006, but what the ad really is doing is inviting a comparison between Harper and Trudeau/Mulcair on what the CPC wants to be the playing field for the next election – economic performance and fiscal policy. In other words, the CPC is hoping Canadians will take the next election seriously. Liberal success is largely predicated on the eventuality that they don’t. Unfortunately, the Liberal hope is not baseless.

    • In other words, the CPC is hoping Canadians will take the next election seriously.

      Dang. I was hoping Oily the Splot would be updated for iphone 6.

      • I think I saw the youngling standing in line for one. Hope he remembered to lock the doors this time.

        • Back in 2005, I understand you didn’t need to lock doors.

          • Still don’t if you subscribe to the notion everything behind them should be distributed to the 99% anyway.

          • Or if you subscribe to the conspiracy theory that anyone who challenges your statements doesn’t share your core (not extreme) views.

            Monty Hall was Canadian. So, Let’s Make a Deal. Would you like door #1, door #2, or door #3?

          • Your emily1-like response has lost me. Fun while it lasted, though.

      • What, you didn’t take Oily seriously?
        Granted, he wasn’t quite as serious as the Poopin’ Puffin.

        • “May the bird of paradise fly up your nose.”

          – Carnac the Magnificent

    • “The CPC seems to think that that if asked, most people would say that they were better off than they were before Stephen Harper took power.”

      Bingo Prof G. Plenty of voters will remember the sky wasn’t falling pre Harper; all Harper has done is continue to hold it up. Not bad! But now we get to look at all the other crap he’s done and decide if someone less prickly, less inclined to quarrel and needlessly pick fights with whomever, can still run this country. Clearly they can; because they have before.

  11. Externalities ?

    Say GHGs per capita, GHG performance relative to international treaties?

  12. Question from the economically unedicated Mr G? Do these numbers reflect incomes after federal transfers and income compensation schemes of various sorts? I’ll go out on a limb and assume they do. So, now how does that income disparity gap[not to mention growth and productivity ] of the Harper govt look? And isn’t this the one principle leg of the Trudeau chair that is pretty solid – just about no income growth once you subtract equalization programmes? Of course this charge might also be leveled at various federal govts going way back, not just Harpers.

  13. 1.1M jobs over 8 years is an average of 137.5k / year. That’s not even enough to cover the immigration rate of 250k (average since 1990).

    • Check your math sir.

      17.85 – 16.2 = 1.65M jobs.

  14. One million jobs… $150 billion added to our debt. Back to where Brian Mulroney left the Liberals in 1993.

  15. Worth remembering in the labour force numbers…some CPC policies were designed to make it easier for families with young children to choose stay-at-home parenting. One would naturally expect that to have an impact on the labour force percentage.

    • No one wouldn’t. Too few people to make a difference.

  16. Good gawd!! Six members of my family served in WW2. We went to war so, we wouldn’t have a fascist dictator running this country. Quite frankly, Harper isn’t worth our young Canadian boys dying for. The way Harper is treating our WW2 Veterans and our young Veterans of to-day, is downright disgusting and evil, just like a fascist sociopath would do.

    Canada used to be a good, decent democratic country, that was once welcomed around the world. I saw through Harper when he was Policy Chief for his, Northern Foundation of 1989. Harper has an extremely shady political past. Harper has no honor, decency, ethics nor morals, what-so-ever. And, he lies and cheats to win.

  17. These numbers show one thing. The Reform/Alliance/Harper Party have sleepwalked thru 8 years of indifferent economic stewardship. As a government they have done very little for Canadians that couldn’t have been done by a public trustee. So the harper economic leadership “better off” analogy comes to ground with a sputter. “Look folks, I did nothing and nothing has happened. Can I now have my gold star for being average?”

    More telling is harper has shown his duplicity and deceit to the Canadian public. Transparency, Senate Reform, Robocalls, muzzling, UN, F35 fiasco, destruction of public records / research and on. Anyone can look up this man’s and this party’s documented performance. This is what the next election is about. The 2015 election is not exclusively about the CPC’s lackluster economic performance

  18. You should have included real inflation especially food prices.

  19. Kudos for mentioning counterfactuals but, man, in terms of causal inference or policy design, the pre-post design, as suggested by the table, is just as bad.