PM must show more than ‘re­source­ful­ness’

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - OPINION - Tim Harper is a na­tional affairs writer. Torstar Syn­di­ca­tion Ser­vices. tharper@thes­tar.ca Twit­ter:@nut­graf1

If Justin Trudeau could lift the Cana­dian econ­omy based on op­ti­mism, “pos­i­tiv­ity,” con­fi­dence and smiles, he would be pre­sid­ing over much more than a coun­try de­clared hip by some late-to-the party ar­rivals.

He would be pre­sid­ing over a global jug­ger­naut.

Cana­di­ans will gen­er­ally ap­plaud a leader who goes abroad and talks up our coun­try, cel­e­brates our di­ver­sity, speaks con­fi­dently about our fu­ture and cuts a swath through a blue-chip global gath­er­ing.

No one wants to dis­ap­pear down the rab­bit hole of dark­ness, and if Trudeau is glad­hand­ing with Leonardo DiCaprio, Kevin Spacey and the ubiq­ui­tous Bono while we are be­ing broad­sided at home with glum eco­nomic news, well, this is the up­beat style that se­duced us on the cam­paign trail mere months ago.

But Trudeau is also risk­ing some­thing else with his re­lent­lessly up­beat slo­ga­neer­ing and celebrity sta­tus. He is close to be­ing de­fined by a self-cre­ated op­ti­mism gap.

He has al­ready fallen into the trap at home, where op­ti­mistic pre­dic­tions of mod­est $10-bil­lion bud­get deficits and rev­enu­eneu­tral tax changes have been swal­lowed up by eco­nomic re­al­ity.

He skated away from the op­ti­mism gap when it be­came ev­i­dent that a tar­get of 25,000 Syr­ian refugees ar­riv­ing in this coun­try by the end of 2015 was un­work­able, but it is was im­por­tant to hold fast to that tar­get be­cause it made us feel good, we were do­ing the right thing, the coun­try was “back.”

The op­ti­mism gap is some­times the rea­son his words on em­brac­ing the levers of soft power and the greater good in peo­ple is in­ter­preted by some as a tepid re­ac­tion to the evil of ter­ror. Now he is op­ti­misti­cally try­ing to re­brand the coun­try in the eyes of global in­vestors.

“My pre­de­ces­sor wanted you to know Canada for its re­sources, I want you to know Cana­di­ans for our re­source­ful­ness,’’ Trudeau told the World Eco­nomic Fo­rum this week.

When Trudeau touts this coun­try’s high-tech, biotech, knowl­edge in­dus­try and en­tre­pre­neur­ial class, he is not kick­ing our re­source sec­tor to the curb, but he is sig­nalling a ma­jor over­haul of eco­nomic em­pha­sis in this coun­try and he is right to do so.

Yes, the re­source sec­tor lives and dies in cy­cles, but there is a dif­fer­ent feel to the plunge in com­mod­ity prices this time. Most of the pain is be­ing felt in Al­berta, Saskatchewan and New­found­land and Labrador but it is hurt­ing ev­ery­one in this coun­try.

There is no light at the end of this cy­cle and Bank of Canada gov­er­nor Stephen Poloz ac­knowl­edged this week that we have a two-track econ­omy in which other sec­tors will step up to com­pen­sate for the bat­tered re­source sec­tor.

Ac­cord­ing to Nat­u­ral Re­sources Canada, the en­ergy sec­tor di­rectly or in­di­rectly ac­counted for 5.2 per cent of the Cana­dian work­force in 2014 and di­rectly or in­di­rectly con­trib­uted 13.7 per cent of the coun­try’s gross do­mes­tic prod­uct.

Re­sources as a whole, at the end of 2014, were di­rectly or in­di­rectly re­spon­si­ble for 1.8 mil­lion jobs and al­most 20 per cent of our gross do­mes­tic prod­uct.

But the Cana­dian del­e­ga­tion to Davos il­lus­trated this change of em­pha­sis by Trudeau and the re­pu­di­a­tion of the hew­ers of wood era of Stephen Harper.

Those trav­el­ling with Trudeau in­cluded his fi­nance min­is­ter, Bill Morneau, his in­ter­na­tional trade min­is­ter, Chrys­tia Free­land, his eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment min­is­ter, Navdeep Bains, his en­vi­ron­ment min­is­ter, Cather­ine McKenna, and his Trea­sury Board pres­i­dent, Scott Bri­son. The nat­u­ral re­sources min­is­ter, Jim Carr, was not there.

This re­brand­ing al­ready sparked a gen­tle re­join­der from Cal­gary Mayor Na­heed Nen­shi and raised fears it will heighten ten­sions in Al­berta where there is al­ready wari­ness about Trudeau’s at­ti­tude to­ward re­sources.

A big­ger source of ten­sion will come from Thurs­day’s stated op­po­si­tion to the En­ergy East pipe­line from an amal­ga­ma­tion of 82 Mon­treal metropoli­tan ju­ris­dic­tions. Mon­treal Mayor De­nis Coderre said the po­ten­tial costs of a cleanup far out­stripped any eco­nomic ben­e­fits from a pipe­line that would take Al­berta crude to a New Brunswick re­fin­ery. The re­ac­tion from Al­berta was fast and loud.

Re­source­ful­ness may even­tu­ally trump re­sources, but a re­source col­li­sion still looms in this coun­try.

Here’s hop­ing Trudeau isn’t overly op­ti­mistic about the ease with which this can be han­dled.

Tim Harper Na­tional Affairs

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