Canada now see­ing the hu­man face of eco­nomic uncer­tainty

Fort McMurray Today - - COMMENT - AN­THONY FUREY

It’s been a rough cou­ple of weeks. Cana­di­ans are anx­ious about the eco­nomic sit­u­a­tion. Ev­ery­one knows some­one who works in ei­ther the oil­sands or the auto sec­tor. A fam­ily mem­ber. Friend. Neigh­bour.

Or at least ev­ery­one who lives in Al­berta and On­tario, the two prov­inces that are sup­posed to be the eco­nomic en­gines of our coun­try.

Last week, Al­ber­tans took to the streets to protest Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau’s visit to Cal­gary. They’re fac­ing a cri­sis, he says. Then he hops back on his plane. No men­tion of what he’s go­ing to do. Some lead­er­ship.

And let’s be clear about one thing: they don’t want hand­outs. Al­berta politi­cians, busi­ness­men and reg­u­lar folks stress that re­peat­edly. They just want some of the four stalled or aborted pipe­lines to get built. A rea­son­able re­quest.

“We have the right to be an­gry,” Cal­gary Sun colum­nist Rick Bell writes. “Still no pipe­line in the ground while we still pay a car­bon tax. Sell­ing our oil at bar­gain prices. High un­em­ploy­ment. One in four down­town of­fices empty. In­vest­ment dry­ing up.”

One com­plaint from Al­ber­tans was that if an­other prov­ince, such as On­tario was fac­ing a cri­sis with, say, the auto sec­tor, there would be im­me­di­ate ac­tion from the feds. We’re about to find out whether that’s true or not. Ei­ther way, it’s not pretty.

On Mon­day, Gen­eral Mo­tors an­nounced its plans to per­ma­nently close all of their op­er­a­tions in Oshawa — the east­ern GTA city that’s long been one of Canada’s top auto man­u­fac­tur­ers. That’s 2,500 di­rect jobs at the plant, to dis­ap­pear at some point next year, along with thou­sands more in­di­rect jobs.

Tax­pay­ers gave them $10 bil­lion back in 2009 to keep afloat and yet they un­cer­e­mo­ni­ously close up shop, with a news re­lease that doesn’t even ac­knowl­edge the peo­ple they’ll be putting out of work.

One eco­nomic anal­y­sis I was sent, pre­pared by a firm for Uni­for, an­a­lyz­ing the pos­si­bil­ity of the plant’s clo­sure pegged the eco­nomic costs of this move as siz­able. There would be a $5 bil­lion loss to the econ­omy. Pro­vin­cial rev­enues would de­cline by $400 mil­lion per year. Fed­eral rev­enues by about $500 mil­lion an­nu­ally. And the Canada Pen­sion Plan would lose around $120 mil­lion in an­nual con­tri­bu­tions.

These stats are a re­minder — like with the oil­sands — that these iso­lated pieces of bad news aren’t iso­lated at all. We’re all af­fected. We share the pain.

A few weeks ago the Con­fer­ence Board of Canada re­leased its com­pre­hen­sive fall fore­cast and while it wasn’t doom and gloom, al­most ev­ery sub­head­ing un­der­scored how Canada is trend­ing neg­a­tive.

A random sam­pling: “Slower Econ­omy Re­sults in Slower Pace of Hir­ing and Weaker Wage Gains”; “House­holds Will Be Chal­lenged by Ris­ing Costs”; “Gov­ern­ment Bud­gets Re­main Un­der Pres­sure.”

Sure, there are a few OK spots here and there but the over­all di­rec­tion is not pos­i­tive. The pub­lic is feel­ing it. The bur­den is adding up.

For months now, we’ve had busi­ness ex­ecs and reps from in­dus­try warn­ing us that things are tak­ing their toll. These botched en­ergy projects are a mess. The reg­u­la­tions are drag­ging us down. The car­bon tax is an al­ba­tross. The U.S. is look­ing like a far bet­ter place to do busi­ness.

These lamen­ta­tions per­haps first looked like some­thing for the busi­ness pages, like it was all Bay St. spread­sheets. Talk­ing heads in suits dis­cussing in­ter­nal af­fairs. But no, they’ve been talk­ing about real life.

We’re now see­ing there’s a hu­man face to all of that eco­nomic data, all of those warn­ings. It’s the peo­ple tak­ing to the streets in Al­berta. The soonto-be un­em­ployed in Oshawa. And the peo­ple be­hind all of those smaller job losses that didn’t make the news. And the jobs that would have been cre­ated but weren’t.

Eco­nomic uncer­tainty. It’s what we’ll all be talk­ing about at the din­ner ta­ble this Christ­mas.

THE CANA­DIAN PRESS/JEFF MCIN­TOSH ORG XMIT: JMC110

Mounted po­lice of­fi­cers mon­i­tor a protest out­side an event Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau is at­tend­ing in Cal­gary, Alta., Nov. 22, 2018.

THE CANA­DIAN PRESS/ED­UARDO LIMA ORG XMIT: ELO128 ORG XMIT: POS1811261443541533

Work­ers of Oshawa's Gen­eral Mo­tors car as­sem­bly plant, lis­ten to Jerry Dias, pres­i­dent of UNI­FOR, the union rep­re­sent­ing the work­ers, at the union head­quar­ters, in Oshawa, Ont. on Nov. 26, 2018.

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