It all looks so enticing. But before we exercise our democratic right at the polling station, we need to look beyond the sizzle.
The future is always uncertain and often a little scary. That’s why so many politicians hint at a return to the good old days. Certainly Donald Trump did in his successful run to the American presidency.
You remember or have heard of the good old days. Houses were affordable. Marriages lasted. Anybody could find a good job.
Even though we know that our glasses get a little rose coloured when we look toward the past, there’s something attractive in that picture. Vote-seeking politicians are only too happy to get our support by leading us to believe that they can bring back the past.
Alas, time is unidirectional. We can’t go back. And, after a closer look, would we really want to? Those affordable houses had no Wi-Fi and often just one bathroom. Many of the well-paying jobs in manufacturing or resource processing were deadly boring – one of the reasons that they have been replaced by machines.
So we need to be very careful about prospective policies that imply we can bring back the past.
One such policy has already been suggested by B.C.’s New Democrats. They’re looking for ways to limit the export of logs, expecting that this would encourage more wood processing in British Columbia.
It won’t work.
Denying log producers access to international markets would limit their customers to those who could only pay as little as half the world market value of the logs. When the price for a product drops that much, suppliers curtail or stop production and even go bankrupt. Instead of generating manufacturing jobs, this would lead to the loss of jobs in the woods.
Mill closures and the resulting job losses aren’t the result of lack of logs. Systems exist to give local manufacturers first access to logs. Mills have been closing because they’re undercapitalized, inefficient and uncompetitive. The old 20th century mills can’t create good 21st century jobs.
The forest industry is not the only one where government policies might lead a citizen to believe we can bring back the jobs of the past. As forestry has been to British Columbia, so the car industry was to Ontario. Now the federal government and the province of Ontario each plan to put more than $100 million into the automobile industry, mainly in a partnership with Ford.
This has upset the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, which points out that Ford alone made global profits of over US$10 billion in 2015 and so really shouldn’t be subsidized by our taxes. For this money, 300 jobs will be created and 500 jobs saved. Workers whose jobs were previously downsized in the auto industry won’t be able to fill these jobs. Instead, some of these very 21st century jobs are going to high-tech engineers, many from BlackBerry. They will be asked to design and build the driverless cars of the future.
Creating 21st century jobs is good. The irony is that these jobs need the kind of talent that’s in serious short supply in Canada. Our education policies don’t do nearly enough to provide this talent and recent changes to immigration policies actually worsen the situation.
It’s another reason to take a measured, big-picture look at the policies of our governments. And to view with skepticism the backward-thinking promises made by would-be leaders at election time.
Troy Media columnist Roslyn Kunin is a consulting economist and speaker.