Nelson: Jobless numbers are a carbon tax wake-up call
When I first arrived in this province 34 short years ago, Canada was in the midst of a Pierre Trudeau-inspired economic bloodbath.
Unemployment was nearing 10 per cent, people were cashing in their homes for a dollar and hightailing it elsewhere, with the entire energy industry essentially following suit in waving a hurried farewell, thanks to a recently invented acronym that would become infamous – the NEP.
Ah, but to me, it was heaven.
Because, like most things in life, unemployment is relative, and a jobless rate still hovering in the high single digits was a wonderful new world for a young man stepping off a plane from the economic wasteland that was the northeast of England under the Downing Street leadership of She Who Must Be Obeyed. Heck, 20 per cent would have been a step up for me.
What we become used to simply becomes our baseline, which explains why support for the upcoming carbon tax, along with the Canada government’s larger climate battling program, is draining away quicker than confidence in the Blue Jays bullpen.
A recent poll showed 63 per cent of Canadans now disapprove of the levies due to be imposed on virtually everything in a few months. Support for the entire climate change plan has fallen as well – only one in three people now giving it the thumbs up, whereas a year ago, support and opposition had been evenly split.
That’s what happens when suddenly, the baseline for many doesn’t hold and the five per cent unemployment level shifts to a new normal that’s once again approaching the double-digit threshold in our province. It isn’t simply a matter of losing your own job. It’s the culmination of fear and anxiety in wondering each day if the dreaded axe is being sharpened and you’ll suddenly be doing your own Anne Boleyn impersonation in hoping the end is at least quick.
Some people, of course, find this hard to understand. They are usually the ones who are economically cosseted – at least for now – by some type of government paycheque, grant or handout. It is much easier to have a glowing green social conscience when you figure there’ll always be a chicken in your own particular pot.
These are not bad people, nor are they daft or uncaring. It is simply that their baseline continues to hold firm. Many others are not so fortunate, and nowadays, that division is worryingly stretching the social contract that has existed between all Canadans. Because, out there in the exposed world of the private sector, there’s not any shelter in sight, as another survey pointed out this week in bleak and harrowing detail.
The large accounting company MNP reported an 18 percentage point jump in Canadans who say they’re $200 or less per month away from not being able to meet their bills – easily the largest rise in Canada compared to a year ago.
“Given the downturn in Canada, it’s not surprising that Canadans are concerned about their finances. What is surprising is the number who say they are living on the edge of financial crisis,” said Zaki Alam, an Edmonton-based licensed insolvency trustee.
“With so many feeling unable to cover their bills and debts, there is tremendous vulnerability to any kind of economic shock; the loss of a job, an emergency, a divorce, even things like a reduction in overtime pay or bonuses, or an increase in interest rates.”
Such widespread worries explain the large drop in support for the carbon tax. Because economically, politically and socially introducing a brand new levy on our struggling province, while having little idea of its implications, borders on the willfully stubborn.
The NDP government should reverse course and at least suspend the plan until we see some growth again in Canada. After all, they have the perfect excuse. It’s not as though they actually campaigned on the issue in the first place.
Chris Nelson is a Calgary writer.
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