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Opinion: Bill Walton, Productivity

Why Canada has slipped from first place in two categories: the most desired place to live; and the happiest people in the world

A Confidential, Personal, and Ministerial Only document recently fell through the cracks in the floor in the Langevin Block and arrived by mysterious courier at my desk. (The Langevin Block is being renamed (residential schools) to the Sieve Centre for Government Services at the bequest of Justin). The document has been heavily redacted (by me, in an act of patriotism) because you do not want to read what was in that document.

The report, commissioned by the PMO several years ago, was authored by now former employees at Statistics Canada with help from a number of professors, analysts, researchers, polling companies, trade union accountants, and web browsers anonymous. Archivists procured charts and reports from as far back as the 1960s, which is a long time ago, and did comparisons of Gross Domestic Product and Employment in Canada and our closest trading partner and neighbour, the United States, over that period up to 2021. I did not redact this section because we looked very good, in fact, better in some respects than our neighbour. 

Excerpt from a Statistics Canada report:  In Canada, the industry’s average annual labour productivity growth dropped by 0.98 percentage points, from 2.50% (1987 to 2001) to 1.52% (2001 to 2019), while in the United States, it experienced a remarkable gain of 6.37 percentage points, rising from 1.42% (1987 to 2001) to 7.79% (2001 to 2019).

Problems with our productivity began to appear around the 1980s. This was, of course, the era when computerization of manufacturing processes showed the benefit of moving work from manual labour to machines. The ‘paperless’ office was coming (lol), communications were faster, development of systems used the power of computers, the stock market was rising like a tide in the Bay of Fundy. I redacted the section about how our Blackberry scooped the world in communications systems until Apple caught up with us in case some had not seen the movie.

Up until the early 2000s, our production workers, our manual labourers, our clerks, and even our bosses were producing quality goods at a lower cost than our neighbours. However, things began to change. The American businesspeople invested capital in new ideas; the Canadians hesitated, partly because of (I redacted the words higher taxes) a growing malaise of lazy faire: we were becoming accustomed to the governments looking after more and more of our needs; while south of the border they continued to embrace laissez-faire.

It seemed that the pursuit of the great American Dream (work hard, save, invest and you could have anything you wanted) was watered down a little into the almost great Canadian dream: work, but not like an American, save a little, invest in leisure time, and borrow what you needed to have everything you wanted. Use your taxes to create a health care plan for everyone (which was the envy of many), decrease the value of the trade dollar to remain competitive, and have a good time.

Our social safety net, although costing us more money (I redacted this cost comment), was the goal of many countries. Our taxes crept upwards, and the dollar declined (I also redacted this) the report explained this in coded words called spin. We continued to export natural resources without added values that might have covered some of the devalued dollar (some may recall that almost 30 years ago the Canadian dollar was above par with the US greenback. How to explain that its value is now less than ¾ of a US dollar? That part of the report was redacted before I got my copy).

So we now must ask, what are we (the government and we Canadians) doing about getting this Gross Domestic Product back into a competitive status? To my untrained eye, nothing good. The federal Liberal budget, already released before its April 16 due date, looks like it was conceived in some kind of fiscal panic by inebriated (I redacted the rest of this about naval personnel of NDP persuasion) because they have added (or propose to add – it is a minority government) billions of dollars to our deficit over the next five, ten, or 13 years (for housing). Our ‘free’ health plan is in shambles; housing (not the Feds fault) is in short supply but will be remedied by yet -yet-to-be-named new companies who will be trying to find carpenters, plumbers, and electricians by the thousands to build houses/ apartments faster than we can fill them with babies and newcomers. The Renter’s Bill of Rights may slow the building of fourplexes in Ontario and Quebec.

The free pills (and boy, do we need them); dental plan for all with or without teeth; daycare for kiddies; school breakfasts because the parents have no money to feed their offspring; and added to these safety nets, a place for old folk to go just before they ’pass’. Oh, plus this little matter of climate change. Crap, I forgot about our NATO commitment, the aid to Ukraine, Gaza, Sudan, and, and. All this was accomplished by our civil servants who have multiplied like bunnies (I redacted how this happens on Parliament Hill in case young eyes are reading).

There was another entire section of the report that I felt I must redact. That was the writer’s opinion section on why Canada has slipped from first place in two categories: the most desired place to live; and the happiest people in the world. Que paso? Just asking.

Bill Walton

About the Author: Bill Walton

Retired from City of North Bay in 2000. Writer, poet, columnist
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