While strictly non-partisan, AIMS understands the importance of helping political parties of all stripes to gain insight into the significant public policy challenges facing the region and the country. In recognition of the contribution that AIMS makes to policy debate, AIMS
President Brian Lee Crowley was invited as a non-party commentator on a panel at the national convention of the PC Party of Canada in Edmonton.
The other members of the policy panel were
Senator Donald H. Oliver, Deputy-Chair Senate Committee on Transport and Communications
John Eckert, President, Canadian Venture Capital Association
Walter Robinson, Federal Director, Canadian Taxpayers Federation
In his remarks Crowley addressed three questions put to him by the conference organizers. His second talk, a mock budget address, discussed the budgetary choices facing the federal government, he emphasized the wrong-headedness of holding on to labour policies designed to address systemic unemployment when the real challenge facing the country, and the world, in the 21st century is substantial labour shortages. These remarks are below:
The two greatest challenges we face, ladies and gentlemen, define the budget that we need. Those challenges are: the aging of the population and the ability of Canadians to make themselves and their society richer and more productive.
Le budget dont on a besoin, mesdames et messieurs, découle direcement des deux défis les plus importants auxquels on fait face en tant que société. Quels sont ces défis? Le vieillissement de la population, et la capacité des Canadiens d’ augmenter leur productivité.
Throughout the Western world, and particularly in Canada, public policy has been obsessed with one challenge, and one only for the last 50 years: unemployment. The bulge of boomers working its way through the population made this imperative.
But today, according to the Global Commission on Aging, most of the industrialised world faces very significant and growing labour shortages for the foreseeable future. Canada is no exception.
Yet many of our most cherished programmes are still based on the notion that we must combat unemployment, and we often do so at the expense of productivity. We pay people not to work, through welfare, El and early retirements. We pay them not to improve productivity, as in the fishery and health care, we squander money on politicised infrastructure projects that provide little real benefit, or now on cities, that already have enough tax money for their needs, but spend it foolishly to maximise jobs rather than the value of services.
But the number of workers paying taxes to support the retirement incomes, health care and other needs of the over 65s will simply be too small unless we put every possible worker to work and give them the best education and most productive tools that we can. So the aging of the population and the need to improve productivity are deeply intertwined.
The good news is that we are fully capable of meeting this challenge, and doing so without creating unemployment. Here are the three key parts of a budgetary programme to achieve these goals:
Drawing inspiration from Ireland and its huge progress, we will rely on the knowledge, experience and intelligence of Canadians to make the right choices for themselves and the economy, not bureaucrats acting on their behalf. That means lowering taxes on effort, on savings, on investment and on profits and taking those tax levels below those of the Americans. I’ll talk more about this in the next session.
We must remove every obstacle we can to people getting into work and working as intelligently and productively as they can. That means, for example, the end of compulsory retirement. In the future, employers will pay people to keep working, not to retire.
Similarly, we must reform all social programmes that reward people for not working. We need no longer assume that there are parts of the population incapable of working; in the US in the 1990s, even high school drop outs saw their unemployment rate fall below 7%. That’s lower than our national unemployment rate. Our well-intentioned social programmes are condemning potentially productive members of our society to idleness, and that’s a scandal and a waste. We are going to reform El, and work with the provinces to reform social welfare more generally to ensure, as Alberta is doing, that work always pays better than relying on social benefits.
If we are to be more productive, we must have better tools. And the most important tools we have are the minds of Canadians. We must improve the quality and availability of the education available to Canadians. The best way for Ottawa to help in this regard is to give Canadians more weight and more power in the educational system, so that universities and colleges must respond to the educational choices that our children think will provide them with the greatest opportunities. We will not give new money to the universities and colleges, but we will make it available direct to Canadians in the form of training and education vouchers. If the post-secondary institutions of this country want this money, they’ll have to be more responsive to what students and employers tell them they need today.