COMMENT

EDITORIAL

The only issue: Are Canada’s affairs in competent hands?

June 16 1962
COMMENT

EDITORIAL

The only issue: Are Canada’s affairs in competent hands?

June 16 1962

EDITORIAL

The only issue: Are Canada’s affairs in competent hands?

COMMENT

ONLY ONE ISSUE has emerged in the election campaign, and that is the issue of competence. Which of the two major parties is the abler? Which is the better equipped to do what both propose?

Unemployment is not an issue, whatever the campaign orators may say. Both parties hope to reduce it, and both produce the same figures to prove their own ability to do so. The government points out that more people are at work than ever before, the opposition notes that more people have been out of work in the past five years than at any time since the Great Depression. Both statements are true but neither means much, because each party prescribes the same cure for unemployment — economic expansion in a climate of confidence. The open question, of course, is which party is more likely to create the confidence and set the expansion in motion.

Defense looks and sounds more like an issue, but it really isn’t one either — not in principle, at least. There’s a cleavage of opinion within the ranks of both parties, but the dominant view is the same in each: Canada should have as little as possible to do with nuclear weapons, but Canada should not impair the western alliance or her own status therein. Obviously, these two objectives are not fully compatible. Just where the point of balance lies between them, the optimum compromise that will be the right policy for Canada, is a continuing question of judgment. Again, the voter's problem is only to decide which party’s judgment is likely to prove the better in this case.

The third area of general agreement is the federal spending program — the rise in old age pensions, the larger grants to the provinces, the public works here and there. These things are unmistakably popular. No party proposing to undo them would have much chance of election, and no party does in fact propose anything of the kind. These are what the prime minister means when he says, so often, “They said it couldn’t be done, but we did it.”

The flaw in his boast is that while the things have been done, they have not yet been paid for. Is it quite true to say “we did it” when the problem of paying for it is still unsolved? Can a man truthfully say “I have given my wife a mink coat” when all he has done is order the garment, and have it delivered on credit?

The question became urgent in mid-campaign, with the sudden decline of the Canadian dollar. An orderly devaluation is a quite defensible policy that many economists have been urging for several years, but this one wasn’t orderly, it was forced on us. Finance Minister Fleming admitted, to a press conference, that he would rather not have done it at this time, and this was a disturbing admission. Devaluation is a difficult, delicate undertaking, rather like trying to move a heavily loaded sled part way down an icy slope — if the sled gets away out of control, it may slide a lot farther than anyone intended.

How much connection there is between the slump in Canada’s dollar and the six consecutive budget deficits which, by the end of the current year, will total three billion dollars, it’s hard to say. Undeniably, they have been a factor. They have contributed something to the loss of confidence in Canada as a hard currency country, as a safe and sound field for investment, which (rightly or wrongly) has undoubtedly taken place in the last few years.

The first task of the new government, whatever its political color, will be to restore that confidence. This will mean austerity rather than affluence, belt-tightening rather than boon-peddling, a lot more work for a little less money. Such things arc not the 'stuff of campaign oratory, and no party in its right mind would “promise” them, but they're what the future has in store for us whether we like it or not. Our problem as voters is to determine not which party is offering the prettier set of promises, but which will have the steadier hand on the helm through a storm that’s plainly visible ahead.