The surprising election victory of Donald Trump in the United States should have Canadians examining their approach to the middle class, writes Sean Speer in Sun papers.
By Sean Speer, May 18, 2017
Donald Trump’s surprise election has led to newfound interest in the conditions of working-class people. It’s a positive and overdue development. The working class has been neglected for too long.
A recent U.S. study for instance found that less than 15% of Congress had spent more than a quarter of their previous career in blue-collar work. A cursory review of the federal Cabinet suggests that the figure here in Canada would be no higher.
But while more political attention and greater representation are good steps, what working men and women really need are government policies to enable economic opportunity and job creation.
It hasn’t been a good week in this regard. Recent news out of Ottawa and Queen’s Park risks hindering rather than helping work-class Canadians. It’s time for policymakers to match rhetoric with action.
The federal government purports to understand the challenges facing these workers. Its March budget for instance talked about economic dislocation caused by globalization and technological change, and committed to helping those workers affected.
But announcements and reports on the energy sectors in recent days suggest otherwise. Its legislative ban on tanker traffic on BC’s northern coast, its blue-ribbon report on the National Energy Board which recommends slowing down the approvals for energy projects, and its carbon tax proposal are harmful to blue-collar workers in the energy sector.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau may not want the world to know us for our natural resources as he said in Davos last year. But for thousands of Canadian workers resource development is the source of good-paying jobs and dignity and security that come with them.
Therefore this isn’t a pro-worker agenda. These are policy choices that will invariably result in fewer jobs and opportunities in a sector that disproportionately employs working-class Canadians.
Circumstances are no better in Ontario where the government seems poised to raise the minimum wage by 30% to $15 per hour. This would give the province one of the highest minimum wages in North America.
It may seem like a pro-worker policy but, as former colleagues at the Fraser Institute recently observed, it will almost certainly have negative consequences, especially for young workers. Canadian research in fact shows that a 10% increase in minimum wages leads to, on average, a 3% to 6% decline in youth employment.
Good intentions will thus ultimately hurt the same people that the government purports to want to help. It’s an example of Ronald Reagan’s famous quip about how “I’m from the government and here to help” are the most terrifying 9 words in the English language.
More seriously though, it reflects a real gap between intention and outcome and rhetoric and action that must be closed if we are to improve economic conditions for working-class Canadians.
It requires cognitive dissonance to lament the decline of job prospects for these workers, and then to put up further regulatory and cost barriers as we’ve just witnessed. We must begin to recognize it.
Working-class people aren’t looking for a handout. But they also expect that their governments won’t make it harder for them to find work and support their families.
If the first rule of policymaking is “do not harm”, then Ottawa and Queen’s Park failed working Canadians this week.
Sean Speer is a Munk senior fellow at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute.