Last Saturday, the Winnipeg Free Press Business Page carried this double-barreled headline over its top story: “Job numbers not pretty – Startling total of 200 new positions in nation.”
That’s right. Just 200 new jobs. In all of Canada. In one month.
Continued the Canadian Press article: “Trouble in Canada’s anemic jobs market continued into July as a paltry 200 jobs were added during the month, falling spectacularly short of expectations.”
Economists had predicted the economy would bounce back from the unexpected 9,400-job decline in June and add 20,000 new jobs in July. But it was not to be. Instead, the number of full-time jobs fell by 59,700 while part-time jobs increased by 60,000.
All job growth over the past 12 months has been part time, leading Paul Ashworth, chief North American economist at Capital Economics in Toronto to add another dismal statistic.
“Canada is rapidly becoming a nation of part-timers,” he told CPs Steve Rennie. “Over the past 12 months, full-time employment has actually declined by a cumulative 3,100 while part-time employment has increased by 118,500.”
Then late Tuesday afternoon, StatsCan retracted the 200 job creation number for July and promised new numbers by Friday.
But the agency didn’t retract the part of the release that said all job growth over the past 12 months has been part-time.
Coincidentally, the dismal employment story coincided with a new poll by Ekos Research published in iPolitics. Carrying the headline Conservatives Trail in 8 of 10 Provinces; Libs lead but Mulcair top leader. It was conducted between July 16 and 23 among more than 2,600 Canadians.
Ekos gives the Liberals 38.7 per cent nationally, the Conservatives, 25.6 per cent, the New Democrats, 23.4 per cent, the Greens, 7.1 per cent and the Bloc Quebecois 3.7 per cent. The Harper Conservatives are ahead only in the core of their core: Alberta and Saskatchewan. Justin Trudeau’s Liberals lead everywhere else.
“The Conservative Party has enormous campaign war chests and a budget surplus with which to ‘encourage’ support in key swing regions,” the Ekos release says. “They will also have the profound advantage of the political arithmetic of a fractured centre left arrayed across four party choices, three of which are led by inexperienced leaders, versus a consolidated Conservative Party supported by a seasoned and effective political machine. Yet the evidence suggests the likelihood of another Conservative majority is increasingly unlikely, even at this early date.”
Ekos’ polling shows that the current political landscape has shifted dramatically since the Harper majority victory of 2011 and could well be an aberration. Canada has been a blend of Red Tory/Progressive Conservative/Social Liberal/Social Gospel political culture since its birth under Red Tory Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald. With its core in highly Americanized Alberta and to a lesser extent Saskatchewan, Stephen Harper’s government is an outlier, the Canadian branch plant of U.S. Republicanism.
The Conservatives have been in steady decline since the last election, Graves said in an interview Monday. “Collectively, the progressive parties, centre and progressive parties, now occupy almost 75 per cent of voter intentions which I think is really quite astonishing.”
Contrary to claims Canadians are moving to the right, they’re actually going in the opposite direction, Graves continued. “They’re moving to the centre-left. Whether this is a fatigue with governing from the right – Canadians aren’t particularly right wing – or whether they’re saying that’s enough, they are beginning to desert Harper and increasingly finding (Liberal leader Justin) Trudeau to be the most likely source of renewal.”
Graves is quick to add that it isn’t a done deal with Trudeau, but if his current numbers are put into a seat projection, the Conservatives would come in third.
“The federal Liberals have held or expanded their lead in every part of the country, and have even made tentative inroads into Alberta, a large-sample survey shows,” the Ekos release states. “The Liberals lead in all regions except the Prairies, a point that does not augur well for Stephen Harper and the Conservative Party.”
Graves notes the Conservatives keep trying to pillory Trudeau, “trying to paint him as some kind of sorcerer’s apprentice who’s going to lead young children into drug addiction. Yet it’s clear it isn’t working except perhaps with the core of his base and in fact is actually offensive to most Canadians who see it as simply ridiculous.
“The New York Times just had the same position as Justin Trudeau took some time ago. So this stuff is just ringing hollow and I actually think it’s going to backfire.”
Graves has also polled on supporting abortion rights and opposing capital punishment – both leading indicators of right versus left attitudes – and says the numbers are seven to one in support.
The Harper government’s strategy seems to be a combination of ideological conviction and pandering to the hard right while trying to layer other slices on top of that, Graves continued. “Given the fact the centre-left are fractured, the arithmetic has worked. But the numbers could change.”
The values of a big majority of Canadians and the values espoused by the Harper Conservatives are not in step, Graves says. “I just don’t see how, in the time available, they can recover and superimpose on that a stagnant economy that is benefitting nobody except those at the very top and fail once again even to acknowledge there is a problem.”
Graves believes Canadians are “trying to inoculate themselves from a hegemony of right wing rule over a protracted period based on a small minority of Canadians who share those views. Canadians are just saying that’s enough.
“Conservatives are essentially writing themselves off with many of their policies and positions,” he continues. “They have been notoriously unsuccessful in moving public values, but I do think they’ve been somewhat successful in celebrating a more militaristic Canada. Attitudes towards the military are more positive towards military history, but that’s it.
“ All the other areas, the whole austerity mantra of less government more tax cuts, that’s been laid bare as a cruel hoax. So on all the important issues, they have failed to move public values or symbols in any significant way.”
Graves acknowledges the split on the centre-left is a great benefit to Harper. “(It) can keep him going, but I think that’s exactly where he was at the end of the (2011) campaign. He had a turnout advantage with the voter suppression that was going on. I imagine that will be tried again given the Hail Mary kind of situation they are in. But they may not even be in that position because then they were at 33 points. They’re at 26 now. I don’t see where they’re going to build support.”
Graves notes that one of the clear lessons from June’s Liberal victory in Ontario is that “the whole austerity, minimum government stuff which is dear to Mr. Harper’s heart is increasingly not working with the public.
“Voters want a more active state, for government to do something to buffer the excesses of a difficult economy and also to invest in that economy through infrastructure and other tools.
“I think the next election will be a showdown over the role of the state. And do you want the model Mr. Harper has been successfully pushing which is to deconstruct the state, to have a diminished federal state? It is going to be 14 per cent (of the Canadian economy) this year, which is shockingly low.”
Still, Graves says, “the split on the centre left is a significant problem and a wide swath of the voting public is becoming upset about it.
“They’re weary of the fact (the parties) cannot, or will not, come up with some kind of deal to talk about a strategy.”
Frances Russell was born in Winnipeg and graduated from the University of Manitoba with a Bachelor of Arts degree in history and political science. A journalist since 1962, she has covered and commented on politics in Manitoba, Ontario, B.C. and Ottawa, working for The Winnipeg Tribune, United Press International, The Globe and Mail, The Vancouver Sun and The Winnipeg Free Press as well as freelanced for The Toronto Star, The Edmonton Journal, CBC Radio and TV and Time Magazine.
She is the author of two award-winning books on Manitoba history: Mistehay Sakahegan – The Great Lake: The Beauty and the Treachery of Lake Winnipeg and The Canadian Crucible – Manitoba’s Role in Canada’s Great Divide. Both won the Manitoba Historical Society Award for popular history.
She is married with one son and two grandsons and lives in Winnipeg.