Op-Eds

Of all the COVID-inspired clichés of 2020, “we can’t go back to how we were before” gets my vote for most trying. Taken literally, it is empty. We can’t undo the deaths, restore students’ lost instruction, give young people the first jobs they didn’t get, erase the huge debts, enjoy the travel and human contact that didn’t happen. No, we can’t go back to 2019 — which is too bad. Taken as an exhortation — “we shouldn’t go back to how we were before” — it is too often a prelude to magical thinking, a great leap to some environmental, economic or political nirvana previously out of reach. That is silly. A sick person who was never an athlete can dream of completing a triathlon. But their first task is to recover. In the same way, post-...
COVID-19 is hurting more than our health. It has crushed our economy. And it is straining our governing institutions. A case in point is the federal government’s refusal to table a budget. The C.D. Howe Institute publishes an annual report on the fiscal accountability of Canada’s federal, provincial and territorial governments. Transparency about taxing, spending and borrowing is fundamental to representative government. Budget votes determine whether governments stand or fall. Legislatures must authorize spending through the estimates process. They need timely, full information to do their work. The fiscal years of Canada’s senior governments run from April 1 to March 31. Governments that present budgets and estimates well...
Parliament is being asked to authorize massive amounts of spending to mitigate the economic damage of COVID-19. To best represent the interests of Canadian taxpayers, who some day will foot the bill, parliamentarians need the best picture possible of the underlying context. That should include a fiscal update. The Prime Minister rejected the idea of a fiscal update last week, arguing that “in this situation any prediction we make will be widely unreliable from one week to the next.” Many past updates and budgets, vital to the parliamentary process, would have failed the reliability test. The infamous 1995 budget, widely viewed as tackling a fiscal crisis and putting the country on a sustainable fiscal path, overpredicted the 1996-...
My colleagues and I at the C.D. Howe Institute devote much of our daily attention to criticizing poorly conceived and ineptly implemented policy in Canada. As we should. That’s our job. And our governments keep us all too well supplied. On occasion, however, people outside Canada ask us about how Canada ranks as a place to live, work, invest, or locate a business. For me, those questions trigger a happy 180-degree turn. The professional nag steps back and the booster of Canada as one of the world’s most favoured nations takes over. As we welcome 2020 with some thoughts about things we in Canada do well, and should keep doing well, here are three ways we stand out. First on my list — first on so many people’s lists — is Canada’s...
Toronto city council has just approved an extra increase in property taxes — another 1.0 per cent in 2020 and 2021 on top of a previously approved 0.5 per cent hike, and a full 1.5 per cent for four years starting in 2022. Mayor John Tory, previously a staunch supporter of holding the line on property taxes, pushed it. The vote went 22-3 in favour — a convincing margin considering most politicians hate to vote for higher taxes. Even many conservative commentators praised the hike as necessary to support social services and better infrastructure. Which makes me wonder: how many on council, in the media, or the city at large know anything about Toronto’s fiscal numbers? Does anyone? Here’s a test. What was the City of Toronto’s actual...