The Peterborough Examiner

Magic levers to fix economy don’t exist

- RANDALL DENLEY — Randall Denley is a strategic communicat­ions consultant and former Ontario PC candidate. Contact him at randallden­

Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s reputation as an economic manager has taken a bit of a hit as Canada experience­s a possible recession.

So much so that a Nanos Research poll this week showed that 47 per cent of people believe that electing NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair would have a positive or somewhat positive effect on the economy.

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau was ranked at 41.7 per cent while Harper trailed at 31.7 per cent.

That’s a problem if your “brand” is good economic management.

What Harper is seeing now is the downside of pretending that a prime minister can manage the economy.

That thing we call “the economy” is just the sum of all the goods and services that are produced and sold. It’s the combined effort of the nearly 18 million Canadians who work and the 1.1 million businesses that employ them.

It’s a bit of a stretch to think a prime minister and his helpers can somehow manage all this activity. There is no God-like federal presence pulling levers and pressing buttons.

In reality, the so-called economic managers in government don’t even know what is happening until well after the fact, when economic data comes in. That’s when we get in a panic about what happened months ago.

Government itself prefers to measure success by job creation. To achieve that, the prime minister can cut corporate taxes, but there is no guarantee that will create any jobs.

Employers hire when customer demand is expanding, not when taxes are cut. If government were to cut the taxes of the Royal Bank, it wouldn’t open more branches or hire more people.

Grants or loans to companies are also popular but the jobs created are at the expense of other companies that can’t afford to hire because their tax dollars are going to the chosen few.

The problem we should be discussing in this election is not which party leader can best pretend to manage the economy, but the actual state of the economy and what we, collective­ly, can do about it.

People quite legitimate­ly say that the Canadian economy is not broad enough and is too reliant on natural resources. That’s true, but it’s not a choice that Harper made or a problem that a prime minister can easily fix. Harper can’t make someone develop a new product or open a manufactur­ing plant. That’s up to us.

We’ve got a lot of work to do. Corporate Canada is tiny. Businesses with fewer than 100 employees make up 98.2 per cent of our business sector. Just 1.6 per cent of our companies are medium-sized businesses with up to 500 employees. Only 0.1 per cent of companies are bigger than that.

So when government pulls those economic levers and nothing happens, don’t be surprised. Canada has only a handful of companies big enough to drive trade or make a real difference. A businessma­n in Canada is far more likely to own a couple of pizza restaurant­s than a big manufactur­ing company.

I am eager to hear from all three leaders about what they think we should do about our economy. A leader should suggest a direction for the economy, and tell us why it’s the best one.

Where we go wrong is giving government too much credit when things go right or blame when they go wrong.

For example, Stephen Harper didn’t cause the oil price collapse.

When our political leaders pretend that they can manage the economy, they create the illusion that building a better economy is up to them, not up to us. That just makes the problem worse.

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