Column

‘If you can’t stand the meat, get out of your kitchen’

Roderick McQueen February 25 1980
Column

‘If you can’t stand the meat, get out of your kitchen’

Roderick McQueen February 25 1980

‘If you can’t stand the meat, get out of your kitchen’

Column

Roderick McQueen

During the federal election’s 60 days of derision, the potshotting politicians were almost able to convince Canadians that these are the worst of times. Almost. Joe Clark replayed old slow-motion movies of Pierre Trudeau’s 11 years in power in the hopes that voters would be seized with phobia once more. Trudeau fought fire with mire, charging that the defeated Conservative budget was the “strongest assault on Ontario since the War of 1812.” And Ed Broadbent spread a disease of another sort: a plague on both their houses. In sum, the pessimistic politicians and their finger-wagging talk proved to be about as popular as lessons on the lute.

There are, to be sure, a few facts to back up those door-to-door glooms.

Inflation will likely reach double-digit levels this year, unemployment stands at 8.5 per cent and interest rates continue to bump up against bankbranch ceilings. In the United States, the just-released Economic Report of the President and his Council of Economic Advisers is the first and only one since 1946 to forecast a recession. American recessions become Canadian imports as surely as tangerines arrive at Christmas. Times are so tough, some would have us believe, that people can’t afford coins for their penny loafers.

Well where, then, is all the cash coming from? On a recent Saturday night, the waiting line to eat in an Ancaster, Ontario, restaurant was endless, even though the place sat 250. The lobby was so crowded you could don overshoes for half an hour and still have none on your own feet. The meal done and the bill in, there was the briefest of moments when the tab ($59 for four with wine) seemed reasonable. The moment lasted about as long as it took to remember that the same funds would buy a week’s groceries. These days, the thinking is “If you can’t stand the meat, get out of your kitchen,” as Canadians spend 38 per cent of their food dollar outside the

home—even though some fast food tastes like Lionel-train smoke pellets. And there’s money for expensive housing, too. In Toronto’s west end, a house placed on sale earlier this year for $298,000 was seen by 37 qualified buyers and sold in three days for $285,000. Cash. In Calgary, where everything was built tomorrow, 21 sky cranes punctuate the cloud cover, busily recreating the skyline. General Motors dealers report record sales across Canada in January. Corporate profits rose

by a robust 40 per cent in 1979. December department store sales totalled $1.3 billion, up 9.2 per cent from a year ago. Investors and brokers are a cheery bunch as the Toronto Stock Exchange list of 300 industrials soared to a record 2118.59 last week before tailing downward. In New York, the resurgent Dow Jones industrial average poked up through the 900 level for the first time in 17 months. Even the bad times are good.

Part of the boom’s cause is fear. The public is buying any stock even remotely connected to energy or the end of détente. The new mood is self-protection as the military-industrial complex comes back to life. War is health, corporal. There is also a grab for gold, the international barometer of anxiety. Driven upward from $300 (U.S.) an ounce to $600 last year by sheiks, speculators, revolution and the U.S. freeze on assets in Iran, gold then attracted the attention of the little guy. When the recent spree reached a high of $850

($969 Canadian), telephone lines at the Bank of Nova Scotia’s general office in Toronto were clogged with 5,000 gold inquiry calls a day. And what to make of those who sold their heirloom silver? Hawking the emotional past—hoarding the metallic future.

There is, however, more than a tissue of illusion to all of this. Much of the spending is false prosperity based on financed purchases. Credit cards, now accepted everywhere from teahouses in China to taxicabs in Calgary, account for $37.9 billion in Canadian debt at rates soon to reach 21 per cent. Total ? new borrowing in 1980 by i Canadian governments, g corporations and individuals is expected to increase £ by 11.2 per cent to $54.7 § billion. Or, perhaps the whole thing is mere stupidity on stilts. Paul E. x Erdman’s Crash of ’79, g translated into German, f was retitled Crash of ’81. il But here is truth. Most § Canadian complaints are ~ vinegary old whine. Al“ though the economy of I North America may be x more regulated by OPEC ° than by the locals, Canada is well sheltered from the stormy blasts. Gasoline comes cheap at $1.12 a gallon compared with $3 in Germany. During the next 20 years, a job-boosting $91 billion will be spent here on major oiland gas-related projects. Thoughtful domestic and foreign predictions see more than three-per-cent annual growth through the early 1980s. Sturdy stuff compared to standstill fare for other nations. Frontier and East Coast oil and gas hold the promise of regional potency and the hope for national selfsufficiency. The 86-cent dollar has restored the country’s competitive position in export markets.

That is the laundry list lately lost by the election-bound folks. They should be shown a new faith, for just as there is a difference between what the politicians promise and what they produce, there exists another national disparity in Canada. It is the gap between what we are and what it is we dream of being. That dream may yet come. First we have to survive our politicians.