Robyn Benson, PSAC

The first leaders debate

Leaders debate.jpg

Leaders debates during an election period never fail to disappoint. A wide range of topics flashes by, and candidates have little time for more than well-rehearsed sound bites. In the absence of real content and depth, observers comment on “quirky body language” and whether the candidates smile too little or too much.

Then there’s a lot of post-debate debate about the debate. Who won? Depends whom you ask. But there really was a clear loser last Thursday evening: Stephen Harper.

Offering soothing words about how well we’re all supposed to be doing under his nearly ten-year rule, Harper made up “facts” as he went along. And he made some startling admissions, too, which should give us all pause.

Under the Conservatives, Canada has seen 400,000 manufacturing jobs disappear. Harper countered with the claim that 1.3 million new jobs have been created under his watch. But what kind of jobs? Here is what an economist from one of Canada’s leading banks has to say: “More people are working part-time instead of full-time, more people are self-employed instead of having secure employment and more are in low-wage jobs than at any time in the last 25 years.”

Harper wants us to believe that the economy is doing well. In fact we’ve seen a steady shrinking of the economy for five straight months. We’re heading for the second recession during Harper’s watch. He claimed that falling oil prices were to blame, but that 80% of the economy actually grew. It didn’t. 28 per cent of Canada’s economy shrank from May 2014 to May 2015, and then got worse: between April and May, fully 80% of the economy shrank. Harper was actually forced to concede that, er, yes, we might be in a recession after all.

The topic of democracy came up, and in particular the Senate. Readers may remember that Harper pledged years ago never to appoint unelected Senators. He went on to appoint 59 of therm. And far from being a chamber of “sober second thought,” most of the Conservative Senators often act like trained seals. A case in point was the Climate Accountability Act, passed by the elected members of the House of Commons back when Harper was running a minority government, and then spiked without debate by the Senate after Harper asked them to.

In his own words: “What I—we always ask senators to do—we cannot force them to do anything—what we ask them to do…is we ask them to support the party’s position. The party didn’t support that particular bill.”

“The party” didn’t support it, so never mind what our elected representatives decided. Harper floundered badly here, and I for one hope this clip makes it into the political ads during the campaign.

Then there was a quick mention of our veterans. Harper: “This government has made record investments in veterans. We’re spending 35 percent more on the average veteran today directly than we were when we came to office.” Similar ludicrous and offensive claims have already been fact-checked. Part was due to replacement of secure lifetime pensions with lump-sum payouts, to save the government money in the longer term. A good chunk of this extra funding was returned to general revenue, unspent. Small wonder, because 900 job cuts have slowed or eliminated the flow of services to our veterans, despite repeated warnings that went unheeded.

We’ll see how well Harper’s snake-oil sells during the campaign. But if this debate is any indication, there’s a mountain of facts available for Canadians to pelt him with as he crosses the country trolling for votes.

On a personal note, I found myself frustrated that public services were not even discussed: not a single question addressed them. Sisters and Brothers, looks like we have a lot of work to do between now and Election Day.

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This page contains a single entry by Robyn Benson, PSAC published on August 10, 2015 8:00 AM.

Status of women in Canada--2015 was the previous entry in this blog.

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