Eco­nomic out­look bet­ter than it seems

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - OPINION - Richard Gwyn Richard Gwyn is a na­tional affairs colum­nist for Torstar Syn­di­ca­tion Ser­vices. gwynr@sym­pa­

Dur­ing the end of 2015 and the first weeks of 2016, Cana­di­ans had to come to terms with the gloomi­est news served to them for a long, long time about the state of our econ­omy.

This was jus­ti­fied. The ev­er­shrink­ing value of our dol­lar is close to set­ting a new, all-time record. The global com­mod­ity boom, from which we once prof­ited so greatly, has gone bust. The heady talk about our­selves as “an en­ergy su­per­power” is now an em­bar­rass­ment.

All of this is fa­mil­iar. Less well­known but as im­por­tant: our record in pro­duc­tiv­ity gains that is, es­sen­tially, the state of our eco­nomic ef­fi­ciency - and in in­no­va­tion or the de­vel­op­ment of new prod­ucts by new, ex­por­to­ri­ented cor­po­ra­tions, lags be­hind many of our com­peti­tors.

To put it bluntly, we are in many ways still the same na­tion of hew­ers of wood and draw­ers of wa­ter we were when we started out 150 years ago in the Con­fed­er­a­tion of 1867 that we’ll soon cel­e­brate.

More trou­bling, other hew­ers and draw­ers do it bet­ter than we do. Aus­tralia is, like us, a one­time Bri­tish colony blessed with a lot of re­sources. But it’s out­pac­ing us.

Our un­em­ploy­ment rate is 7.1 per cent; theirs is 5.8 per cent. Our gross do­mes­tic prod­uct grew by a measly 1.1 per cent last year; theirs by a cred­itable 2.3 per cent.

So our out­look in­deed is bleak. Ac­tu­ally, not so. We still oc­cupy, as has been the case through­out our his­tory, the best real es­tate in the world: We are next door to the huge, rich U.S. mar­ket and know it bet­ter by far than does any­one else. The cheap­ness of the loonie ought to win us ex­ports there, if only more of our busi­ness­men were en­trepreneurs.

In sev­eral crit­i­cal re­spects, we’ve ac­tu­ally over­taken the U.S.

The “Amer­i­can Dream,” or the fond be­lief that any­one there can rise from the bot­tom to af­flu­ence, has moved north­ward. Pro­por­tion­ately, many more Cana­di­ans than Amer­i­cans now climb the lad­der and do it by them­selves rather than by re­ly­ing on their par­ents’ pock­et­books.

Our education sys­tem is su­pe­rior. U.S. univer­si­ties have far more money and many more No­bel lau­re­ates.

But just less than 60 per cent of young Cana­di­ans (the 25 to 34 year-olds) achieve ter­tiary education as against just more than 40 per cent of Amer­i­cans.

In the wide world, only South Korea and Ja­pan outdo us.

Our political sys­tem is in­com­pa­ra­bly duller. But Canada’s is in­com­pa­ra­bly more demo­cratic. There, money is de­ci­sive.

Here, it is a mi­nor ad­van­tage. And while Rob Ford did win the Toronto may­oralty, Don­ald Trump could win the pres­i­dency and do vastly greater dam­age.

Hard times, cer­tainly dif­fi­cult times, do in­deed lie ahead of us. Bank of Canada gov­er­nor Stephen Poloz said it best by com­ment­ing that “no sim­ple pol­icy re­sponse” ex­ists and that the re­quired “ad­just­ment” of Canada’s econ­omy could be “dif­fi­cult and painful” and might take as many as five years to ac­com­plish.

An ar­ti­cle in Sun­day’s New York Times also said it well. The old Canada, “the land of hy­per-po­lite­ness and con­stant apol­ogy,” had “qui­etly mor­phed into a mul­ti­cul­tural breed­ing ground.”

From this in­te­gra­tion of all kinds of peo­ple from all over the world had come, ac­cord­ing to the Times, a raft of new Cana­di­ans such as rap­pers and fash­ion de­sign­ers and co­me­di­ans and en­ter­tain­ers and the founders of hot mag­a­zines and, to name a name, Os­car nom­i­nee Rachel McA­dams.

As for the con­tem­po­rary char­ac­ters of the two North Amer­i­can na­tions, the one that most struck the Times was that, while many Amer­i­can politi­cians had called that no Mus­lims at all be al­lowed in, at the same time the prime min­is­ter had gone to greet those who had reached here and then had helped them on with their new, warm, coats.

We’ll sur­vive.

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