In the past couple of weeks, groups generally regarded as trustworthy in their limited areas of expertise released government “report cards” on two areas related to Canada’s economic and social well-being.
First, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) gave Ottawa a B+ on its “Red Tape Report Card,” rating governments’ efforts to reduce the amount of extraneous rules and regulations faced by small- and medium-sized businesses. The Feds’ 2013 grade marked an improvement over the B- grade given to the grade they received in 2012. In particular, the government’s creation of a “Red Tape Reduction Commission” in 2011 earned praise from CFIB. B.C., by the way, was the only province to receive an A.
This week, the Conference Board of Canada released its “report card” on efforts to reduce poverty and income inequality. Interestingly, Canada also received a B on that count, but unlike the CFIB report card, its current ranking — placing it seventh of the 17 developed countries ranked — was seen as a negative. Canada’s high rate of poverty — worst among the 17 countries ranked — and the increasing gap between rich and poor were cited as areas of particular concern. The report’s author said Canada’s rate of child poverty is “unacceptable,” adding, “Poor children do not eat well, do not learn well and have low chances of escaping poverty when they grow up.”
By themselves, each of the reports is informative. Reducing red tape for business is certainly a worthy aim, as is reducing poverty and income inequality. In the bigger picture, the two “report cards” and the trends identified therein show Canada is changing — not necessarily for the better.
It’s been seven years since Stephen Harper first won a minority government, almost two since he and his Conservatives first won a majority, but only now are we starting to see the real effects of his government’s priorities and actions.
We can’t find much fault with the Harperites’ handling of the economy — and hey, many would say that when push comes to shove, “it’s about the economy, stupid.” But in so many other ways — income inequality and the environment, to name just two — the Canada we thought we knew is increasingly a thing of the past, and fading fast. That, this writer would argue, is cause for grave concern.
— David Burke