Does the Stephen Harper government have good economic policies, from a free-market or small 'c' conservative perspective? This is a completely unscientific way to grade it, but I found five key policy decisions from 2012 and gave a pass or fail mark.
Pass: Gradually raising the qualifying age for pensions from 65 to 67. In 1966, Canadian men who had reached the age of 65 could expect to live another 14 years. Today, it's 18 years. For women, it's 17 and 21 years. We are also healthier and doing work that is less physically demanding. It's only normal that we work a little longer before we start receiving pension cheques.
Fail: Spend, spend, spend. Program spending was $175 billion during the last year of the Liberal reign. This year, it's about $250 billion. This government keeps spending more, and is even getting ready for another stimulus plan should the economy tank again. Also, the number of federal employees has reached a new high and their compensation has outpaced private employees. No wonder Jim Flaherty seems incapable of quickly getting back to a balanced budget.
Pass: Abolishing the Canadian Wheat Board's monopoly. About 80 agricultural marketing boards hold a monopoly on the marketing of specific products and, in some cases, restrict production through supply management. This raises the price of agricultural products, to the detriment of consumers. More fundamentally, is it morally acceptable to force producers to sell to only one officially recognized buyer? Ottawa should abolish all other marketing monopolies.
Fail: Not clarifying foreign investment rules. Although it finally gave its OK to the purchase of two Canadian oil and gas producers by state-owned enterprises from China and Malaysia, the government said it was unlikely to approve such deals in the future. It's inconsistent. Shouldn't shareholders be the ones who decide who they want to sell their shares to?
Pass: Adopting C-377. With the Rand formula, unions have what amounts to a power to tax their members. In a democracy, transparency is the natural counterpoint of compulsory financing. This new law will impose new public reporting requirements, including annual financial statements, salaries paid to top union officials, expenditures over $5,000, and the amount of time spent on political activities.
Michel Kelly-Gagnon is president of the Montreal Economic Institute (www.iedm.org). The views reflected in this column are his own.