The Commons: What shall we call this crisis of ours?

A recession? A depression? Or a cyclical downturn?

by Aaron Wherry

The Scene. Stephen Harper arrived at his seat, sat down and nodded across the aisle. Michael Ignatieff nodded back.

A short while later, one of Mr. Harper’s dutiful backbenchers stood to impugn the Liberal leader’s good name.

“Mr. Speaker, the Liberal leader is out of touch with real Canadians. More specifically, he is out of touch with rural Canadians,” exclaimed Chris Warkentin, apparently unaware of Mr. Ignatieff’s childhood years spent rolling around in the manure of his uncle’s dairy farm in Richmond, Quebec. “The Liberal leader does not support rural Canadians. I would ask the Liberal leader when he will quit his assault on rural Canadians.”

Ignatieff laughed, then stood to begin his questioning of the Prime Minister with a novel suggestion.

“Mr. Speaker, Canadians deserve a clear message from their Prime Minister about this economic crisis,” he said. “Sometimes he says we are in a recession, sometimes it is a depression. In September it was not going to happen at all. This weekend on CNN the Prime Minister called it ‘a cyclical downturn but nothing that requires major government intervention.’ We supported $40 billion worth of stimulus because we believe this is a serious economic crisis. Does the Prime Minister now feel a little differently?”

Ignatieff leaned forward on this bit and raised his voice an octave or two to better enunciate the mockery.

“Mr. Speaker, if the honourable member will look closely at the transcript of that interview he will see that I was speaking specifically of the mortgage sector,” the Prime Minister clarified of his comments about a cyclical downturn. “In the United States they are spending tens of billions of dollars to deal with the problems in their mortgage sector. We do have a cyclical downturn in our mortgage sector, but nothing that requires a massive government bailout package for that particular sector.

“Notwithstanding the economic difficulties, that is one of the many strengths this country has over the United States.”

Hurray for us. But Ignatieff was unimpressed.

“Mr. Speaker, we are still awaiting a clear statement and definition of what this crisis amounts to and how the Prime Minister defines it will help Canadians to get through it,” the Liberal explained. “Let me ask again, does he regard this as a cyclical downturn, a recession, or a depression? A clear answer will give Canadians guidance.”

The Prime Minister would not be baited.

“Mr. Speaker, the economic plan of the Minister of Finance has spoken very clearly about the government’s views on this and our action plan to deal with it,” he said.

“We have no plan whatsoever,” he continued, the Liberals offering a mock cheer, “or no proposals whatsoever from the leader opposite.”

After another round of accusations between the leaders, the proceedings were turned over to the finance critic and his ministerial counterpart.

“Mr. Speaker, if there is a hand on the tiller more wobbly than the Prime Minister’s, it can only belong to the Finance Minister,” John McCallum said, shaking his hands in front of him as if impersonating a zombie. “When he says Ontario is the last place to invest, when he lurches from claims of balanced budgets in November, which nobody believed, to $84 billion of deficits two months later, how can he possibly instill Canadians with a much needed sense of confidence at this moment of economic crisis?”

“Mr. Speaker, I thank the member opposite for his warm remarks,” Jim Flaherty responded.

“It is March now. The biggest budget in recent Canadian history was introduced on January 27. The Liberal opposition said they were going to support it. The budget implementation bill is still in the House today on March 3,” he continued, his voice rising to a yell. “Not one penny of stimulus has gone out to the Canadians who need the help—”

“Your House leader has scheduled a vote this afternoon,” Ralph Goodale helpfully heckled.

“—including the Canadians who live in Wascana,” Flaherty finished in loving reference to Goodale’s Saskatchewan riding.

McCallum came back up with a correction. “Mr. Speaker, the finance minister, of all people, ought to know that a penny of fiscal stimulus before April 1 is illegal,” he explained.

“The act will be passed in plenty of time,” he reassured.

“Last fall, with job losses mounting in Canada in the midst of its worst economic performance in decades, the minister tabled an economic statement that did nothing at all,” McCallum then recalled. “Why did he have no plan when Canada needed it most?”

So challenged, the Finance Minister decided to answer Mr. Ignatieff’s original question.

“Mr. Speaker, we are in the midst of a severe recession globally and Canada is doing better than most countries. However, Canada is significantly affected by this recession,” Mr. Flaherty said.

No doubt Canadians will sleep easier tonight with this much clarified.

The Stats. The economy, eight questions. Afghanistan, six questions. Aboriginals, five questions. Forestry, four questions. Employment, three questions. Taxation, infrastructure and the seal hunt, two questions each. Israel, veterans, crime, government licenses, mining and women’s rights, one question each.

Stephen Harper, nine answers. Peter MacKay, seven answers. Chuck Strahl, five answers. Jim Flaherty, four answers. Diane Finley, three answers. Stockwell Day, John Baird and Gail Shea, two answers each. Jason Kenney, Jean-Pierre Blackburn, Tony Clement and Helena Guergis, one answer each.




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The Commons: What shall we call this crisis of ours?

  1. Other words of wisdom from the fact-challenged member from WO

    “I expect the numbers to continue to get worse for some time. They will get better, eventually,” Mr. Flaherty said. Ref: http://www.canada.com/business/fp/shrank+fourth+quarter/1344445/story.html

    Uh thanks Jim. Thanks for nothing I mean.

    Is there any particular reason why he is still Finance Minister? A cabinet shuffle to Minister of Sport (sorry Gary Lunn) would give the Conservatives an immediate uplift in the polls don’t cha think?

    • I think that the fact that he is unpopular (if that is a fact) explains why eh is still finance minister. WHOEVER is Finance Minister during the Great Cyclical Downturn ™ will be unpopular, so you migt as well keep it to one unpopular dude. Then, as the finance boffins start to predict a comeback, they can move someone new in, if they wish, and reap the double electral bonus.

      • Electrical bonus? Do I get a tax credit for rewiring my house? ;)

  2. ” We do have a cyclical downturn in our mortgage sector, but nothing that requires a massive government bailout package for that particular sector.”

    A question for the economicianados.

    Is it possible to have a severe depression or recession in the economy and just a cyclical downturn in the mortgage (I think Harper meant housing) sector?

    Or, vice-versa?

    And when housing prices are down in the double digits across Canada, and new home construction has come to a virtual halt, is that the definition of a downturn or a depression?

    See, if I were the Greatest Economist on Earth ™, I would know that.

    • Calling a recession a “cyclical downturn” is like referring to separatism as “sovereignty”: they mean the same thing, just the later is less politically charged. After all, recessions are cyclical downturns of the economy.

      Anyways, all you’re essentially asking is “do some sectors get hit harder than others in a recession?”, and the answer is, of course, yes.

  3. It is clearly in the best interest of the Liberals to see the economy worsen. The most damaging thing for the LIberal Party right now would be for money to get out and start the economy back on the road to recovery. Trust me, the only folks who are disappointed in the state of the economy right now, are the Conservative Party, those who have lost their jobs, or those who are affected by the loss of wealth as their assets decrease in value. The Liberals are a party completely lacking in any real principles and beliefs other than getting power, and if getting back into power means stalling the efforts of the Conservative Government to actually help those affected, you can be sure the Liberals in both Parliament and the Senate will do whatever they can to increase the pain felt by Canadians.

    Watch the Liberal MP’s in Question Period. Every time a new report on the economy comes out, they can hardly contain their glee when the news is bad. It’s sickening.
    Give Harper his majority so we can end this bull-crap. The Liberals just want to get back into power because they believe it is their right to pilfer from the Canadian TaxPayers, and they have done so time and again. We’re still missing over $40,000,000 from Adscam, which I’m sure is safely tucked away in the offshore bank accounts of various Liberal MP’s and their cronies. Time to end this madness and get back to basics. Enough of the games.

    • What’s the R stand for? Anyone?

    • trust you like i should trust the non-deficit $84B figleaf of a not-stimulus package that doesn’t exist? i think that sounds a little too much like used car sales talk.

  4. [oozing with sarcasm:] I would agree with you, if only I could get this big bad “Indian” to stop beating me in front of the police man. Whoops, my land was just swiped from under my feet. :(

    …With such eloquent and reasoned arguments, Canadian voters are in top form!

  5. Let me ask again, does he regard this as a cyclical downturn, a recession, or a depression?

    CONBOT ENGAGE: Harper never said we are in a depression, if I’m not mistaken (he warned that it could potentially become a depression in the future as a result of across the board protectionism). He did say that we’re in an economic recession, and that the mortgage sector is in a cyclical downturn phase, which (if I remember my basic econ correctly) are completely compatible concepts. Even if he’d said the overall economy was in a cyclical downturn, I still believe that the concepts are compatible, as recession is merely the downturn or trough of the overall business cycle (correct me if I’m wrong, economics grads). But yea, genius question. A real zinger.

    CONBOT DISENGAGE: Now, if he’d gone after Harper for the “if we were going to have some kind of crash or recession, we probably would have had it by now” quote, on the other hand…

    • As I said above, economic recessions and cyclical downturns are completely compatible concepts as they’re the same damn thing.

      At least, any nuance between the two is visible only to politicians.

      Anyways, yeah, weak question from Ignatieff.

      • Are ‘technical’ recessions and ‘synchronized’ recessions the same thing?

        • Your guess is as good as mine, except I’m pretty sure that they’re both terms invented by politicians, the first to downplay deficit spending and the second to pass the blame.

          • Yeah, I haven’t been able to figure them out. The latter reminds me of swimming (in debt).

  6. But as questions go it was a dumb one.

  7. Sounds like this QP was still better than most. Ignatieff asked a real question, Harper and Flaherty gave a real non-answer, there were a few good heckles, nobody used the term “Fatso” — relatively speaking, it strikes me as almost Athenian in its eloquence.

    • Yup. I noticed that. We’ll see. We’re still at the talk-talk stage.

      At some point Ignatieff will have to put away his ” Listen, pilgrim , make my day! ” persona and actually do something.

      • The gas tax motion that passed today certainly qualifies as ‘something’.

  8. And here I thought any economic policy changes take at least a decade to have a noticeable effect…

  9. “. . . thanks to Harper”

    Presumably then, all he needs is his majority and he’ll also make the trains run on time?

  10. “. . . thanks to Harper.”

    Presumably then, all Harper really needs is his majority in Parliament and he’ll also make the trains run on time?

    • Oops, apologies for the duplication; this is a flaky wireless connection. If I could figure some way to blame that on Harper too, I might. [Whatever happened to Prentice's copyright etc. re-write anyway . . . ?]

  11. I think the government is going to have to do more than bash Ignatieff in order to prove that they are competent enough to hold onto power.

    Harper’s supposed to be an economist. Shouldn’t he be owning this issue? He’s like a lame duck (is that the saying??)

  12. You missed the part when Bob Rae was egging Harper to actually answer a question from someone other than the 3 leaders and he actually did, laughing as he did (and surprisingly, not buttoning up his suit jacket – someone’s been going to the gym!)
    An interesting question period it was!

  13. Well, The Conservatives introduce a :Liberal budget” at the Libs insistence and all we get from the Libs is their usual stalling and silly games. Maybe we can have an election, toss another couple dozen Libs to the EI line and have a Conservative budget that won’t require support from these idiots.

  14. i wonder why the opposition even bothers to ask questions in QP at any particular minister. they all sound the same when they make non-answers, or the PM is too busy coaching grown adult ministers what to say (like they’re children he must instruct); someone ought to tell the PM ego is the most superficial aspect of a person; to rely on it reveals a very shallow personality.

    real ppl are having a difficult time of it right now. the rush to do something (and sneak something unwanted through of course) is an insult to Canadians when it took the minority govt 4 months to wake up; i think they already knew things were gonna be bad or i’d not be hearing from PM Stephen’s own mouth that we are in a “synchronized global recession”;

    also, the Bush Admin admitted the U.S. has been in a recession for over a year now. all of this “hurry up and wait” smacks of a type of indifference one might expect of Nero who fiddled while Rome burned. but i guess for this minority govt it’s ok for kids to see their parents lose hope, lose their jobs, and for those kids to lose out. this minority govt knew for some time now things would be hard; they may have even manipulated us into this; and as usual have used our means, leaving us to fend for ourselves; well, Canadians aren’t lazy or stupid; we are resourceful and those who cynically think it’s ok to benefit from our misery will find themselves in the Tailings Ponds of history.

  15. …. and Ottawa’s Transit system (which “was shut down for months”) is under federal jurisdiction, so while it was located in the Province of Ontario, the Provincial Government didn’t have any role to play, and the fed’s couldn’t do a thing because Parliament was prorogued. I’m no fan of Premier Dad, but let’s be honest please, Queen’s Park intervened in the transit strike in Toronto, whose system is under provincial jurisdiction, in no time.

  16. Harper, the portly buffoon, is not the PM our country needs during this recession. However, it’s the kind of PM we deserve because his party was elected with a majority largely due to the short-sighted individualist (i.e. ME FIRST, ME ONLY) mentality of Conservative supporters.

    Where is our Obama? Still in diapers no doubt.

  17. Sorry to break this to you Robin, but the Me-firsters usually vote NDP or Liberal.
    Without exception, the NDP supporters I’ve had discussions with want the Government to take money from those who work the hardest, have the most talent, and make the most contributions to society. Howver, they simply refer to the aforementioned as “rich” when that is not the case at all, though if you do work hard and are talented, you can become rich. If so, you’ve earned it.

    However, NDP’ers, usually lack many of these characteristics. Usually, the most educated NDP’ers I’ve met were University professors or journalists……..folks who have never had a real job, while the remainder are usually low income for a reason. They quit school, had kids in their teens, used drugs when they could have been working…etc…etc….(add stereotype here).

    Funny thing about stereotypes….they’re there for a reason. They’re based on observation.

    For example: Poor single mom on welfare Stereotype.
    – no education (dropped out of school, or became pregnant as a teen and had to drop out of school….no man to be seen, or not sure who the father is)
    – Lacking any marketable skills (for the reason mentioned above)
    - no family support…because the family she came from is the same as the one described above
    - one bastard kid isn’t enough…so she has several more, by several different men…

    Stereotype 2
    Single male, low income earner
    -lack of education, due to propensity to smoke dope instead of hitting the books.
    -dropped out of school to take dead end job to support habit
    -blames everyone around him for his lack of success
    - wants higher taxes for everyone but himself…..so his Pogie will go up when he quits his job..
    etc.

    Stereotype 3
    -visible minority
    - no job, no prospects.
    -blames racism, instead of:
    -the dope he/she smokes
    -the 4 or 5 kids he/she has but can’t feed without Government assistance
    -school’s for sucka’s!!!
    - my music tells my story….(put a cap in someone’s ass, or smak dat bitch..etc..etc.)
    -wonders why no one will hire him/her

    Add your own stereotype…even one to describe me.

    Stereotype 4 (often called racist/misogynist/povertist? bastard…etc.,…etc..)
    had two parents, who divorced later in life, but not before the kids were older (knew my dad AND mom)
    - grew up not quite poor, but close to it
    -studied hard and did well in school
    -went to work after graduating High School (couldn’t afford University)
    -hated my job, but was never late, only called in sick when I was sick, and never stole from my boss (or anyone else for that matter) – thanks mom and dad for at least teaching me that.
    -wasn’t satisfied with my life, but didn’t blame anyone else
    -worked harder, saved money, and moved to a better job with better pay
    -started University as an adult, earned Degree in Commerce, studied accounting and Finance
    -Still don’t steal from my boss, never late for work, called in sick once in the last 19 years.
    -own two houses, never received any government assistance, and pay over $25,000 per year in taxes to support Stereotypes 1 thru 3 above.
    -No real complaints, because I don’t mind supporting the kids who have the parents they do through no fault of their own, but I do hope they escape the poverty trap.
    -Want these kids to know that mom, dad, and their unemployed uncles and Aunts are NOT role-models. The folks they want to emulate are the proven success stories…..not the chronic whiners and complainers that demand everyone else foot the bill so they can continue with their failed lives.

    So you see Robin……the Me-firsters, are actually those folks who demand everyone else look after their needs, because they have screwed up their own lives so utterly, they have no choice.
    Those of us who are NOT Me-Firsters, are pretty content because we DO NOT HAVE TO RELY on others for our existence or support. Which is why we don’t vote NDP, or Liberal.
    Those folks who are afraid simply grab the NDP or Liberal Mantle because they consider it their lifeline. They have no choice, because they proven already that every choice they make is the wrong one. Voting NDP or Liberal is just another example of a consistent pattern.

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