Justin Trudeau writes policy. I know it's in here somewhere - Macleans.ca

Justin Trudeau writes policy. I know it’s in here somewhere

Paul Wells on the mismatch between problem and solution

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From the leader of the Liberal party, an op-ed on the themes the Throne Speech should contain. Let us go looking for them.

“I have had the great privilege over the past several months to travel our vast and beautiful country,” he writes. No, that’s not it. Let’s see… “all walks of life…” “teachers, truck drivers, farmers…” “gamesmanship and gimmicks…”

Ah. Here we are. Trudeau notes “the most pressing issue facing the country – the fact that middle class Canadians have not had a decent raise in 30 years.”

Here we arrive at the first half of Trudeau’s real argument: the diagnosis of failure. Here he is generous enough to blame  “governments of all political stripes” for “economic platforms which prioritized openness to trade, fiscal discipline, tax competitiveness, and investment in skills, research and infrastructure.”  And the problem with those policies is… what? That they haven’t delivered, apparently. “Middle-class Canadians… were promised that this growth would create prosperity – for them,” Trudeau writes. “Unfortunately, that simply has not happened. The only thing middle-class Canadians have seen grow at a level approaching GDP is household debt.”

Note here that Trudeau is not actually against trade, budget balance, low taxes and investment in human and physical capital. He couldn’t be. Those are the legacies of Jean Chrétien as much as of Stephen Harper. No, Trudeau’s worry is essentially about consent: “For wealthier Canadians, an urgent conclusion must be drawn: if we fail to solve this problem, Canadians’ anxiety will grow, and eventually, they will stop supporting a growth agenda.”

So it all falls apart if the middle class doesn’t feel benefit from economic growth. (Note that we could have a merry debate about whether Trudeau’s premise is accurate, and Maclean’s has been holding that debate for a few months. But let’s grant the premise and examine his remedies.) How should a government tackle “the most pressing issue facing the country?”

Trudeau makes, by my count, two sets of suggestions on this front. First, support the elderly. “Healthcare, home care, pensions: these items, in particular, must be protected and reinforced.” Second, support young people. “This means tackling youth unemployment rates – which are twice as high as the national average – and protecting young workers from exploitation via illegal unpaid internships.” I’m curious about how you can increase both pay and employment levels for young workers, and I’ve never really understood why youth unemployment shouldn’t be higher than employment for people who’ve had longer to find their path in life and to accumulate expensive responsibilities. But I should note that Trudeau also suggests “guaranteeing Canadians access to affordable, high quality, lifelong education” as a “crucial” element of his middle-class agenda.

Throw in seven more uses of the first-person singular pronoun, and that’s that. One is struck by the mismatch between the problem and the solution. If Canada’s “most pressing issue” is looming withdrawal of consent for a “growth agenda,” one can only hope that richer pensions and a simultaneous boost to the pay and the number of jobs offered to young adults will reinforce that consent. And that the cost of those programs will be paid by even faster economic growth. And that the resulting growth won’t be the alienating, consent-withdrawal-inducing growth we have lately apparently had, but that rather it will be the nurturing growth Trudeau prefers.

That’s Trudeau’s contribution. Thomas Mulcair made some suggestions of his own recently. We’ll see what the government has to offer shortly before dinner.