Jean Chrétien says that he understands what Canadians are looking for: “They want us to create jobs." To that end, Chrétien advocates a two-year $6-billion public works program that he claims could create more than 100,000 jobs. But the government would underwrite only a third of the cost; the program would go ahead only if provincial and municipal governments came up with the rest. Critics say this would lead to higher taxes.
Kim Campbell has consistently rejected the idea that governments, acting on their own, can create jobs. Instead, she stresses “the importance of getting the fundamentals right,” which she says will encourage increased employment in the private sector. In addition to reducing the federal deficit and removing trade barriers, Campbell wants to help retrain workers to take advantage of high-skilled jobs as they become available.
Audrey McLaughlin says that the key to economic recovery and deficit reduction is to ensure that Canadians are working and paying taxes. She claims her party can create 500,000 jobs over five years by scrapping the GST, doubling day-care spaces and establishing a $10-billion investment fund for fledgling businesses. She would also tear up the 1989 Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement, which she claims has cost Canada 400,000 jobs.
According to Preston Manning: “There is an organic connection between the deficit and job creation.” Reform’s plan to eliminate the federal deficit within three years, he says, will lead to lower taxes and increased investor confidence—both of which should spur job creation. Until the economy improves, Manning says, the number of immigrants that Canada accepts each year should drop from 250,000 to between 100,000 and 150,000.
Lucien Bouchard wants Ottawa to cut spending on existing programs by $10 billion and plow back half of that into job-creation programs. He also complains that Canada is “the most overgoverned country in the world.” Noting that Ottawa currently manages 27 programs in the field of manpower training, while Quebec oversees another 25, Bouchard demands that Quebec gain full control over job training.
Chrétien proposes moderate cuts to reduce the deficit to about three per cent of gross domestic product over four years, from the current 5.2 per cent. But the Liberal plan is based in part on predictions in last April’s federal budget that the economy will grow by an average of 4.5 per cent a year—a forecast that most economists now consider far too optimistic. Chrétien claims that his plan would not require cuts to social programs.
Campbell has had difficulty defending her plan for deficit reduction. She claims that $8 billion in new spending cuts will do it, since previous cuts and economic growth projections contained in last April’s budget would reduce this year’s forecasted deficit of $32.6 billion to $8 billion by 1997-1998, But her own revenue minister says that in this fiscal year alone the deficit may be $3 billion higher than projected.
McLaughlin says that the NDP would reduce the deficit by about $11 billion over five years. During that same period, however, she proposes billions of dollars in new spending programs and promises only one major spending cut: chopping the defence budget by $8.4 billion. To help achieve her deficit target, she says, she would impose a minimum 14-per-cent corporate tax, and higher taxes on those who earn more than $100,000.
Manning claims that only Reformers have “the guts and the brains” to eliminate the deficit within three years. The recipe: $19 billion in spending cuts and $16.5 billion in new tax revenue generated by an annual projected growth rate of 3.5 per cent. Alone among federal leaders, Manning would cut some social programs—reducing federal contributions for unemployment insurance, welfare and old age security benefits by $9 billion.
Bouchard claims that Ottawa could save $6 billion by eliminating bureaucratic waste. Another $3 billion would come from defence cuts and $1 billion by giving Quebec control over job training. He would also crack down on cigarette smugglers and close tax loopholes. If Quebec separates, he suggests that it will accept responsibility for only 18 per cent of the national debt—even though it has 25 per cent of Canada’s population.
From jobs to the deficit, a voters’ checklist on the issues that count
Chrétien promises to maintain, and in some cases modestly increase, federal funding for social programs. For every year in which economic growth exceeded three per cent, the Liberals would create 50,000 new child care spaces. As well, Ottawa would not unilaterally reduce transfer payments to the provinces for social programs. He has not offered to reverse cuts made by successive Liberal and Tory governments over the past 15 years.
Campbell promises to reform a number of social programs to make them more efficient. And she insists that she can achieve her deficit targets without cutting the overall funding for social programs or raising taxes. But the Prime Minister has declined to respond in detail to unpublished federal studies that conclude that Ottawa can no longer afford the $67.4 billion a year in transfers to provinces and individuals.
McLaughlin promises stable long-term federal funding to the provinces to help pay for social programs. She is also promising a national child-care program that would double the number of available spaces to 600,000, an expanded system of loans for university students and a $100-million program to construct new housing.
Manning argues that Canadians will have to sacrifice some universal social programs in order to free up funds to preserve those that they value most, including medicare.
He claims that he can save $3.5 billion by eliminating old-age security benefits for households receiving more than the Canadian average family income of $54,000 a year. Critics say there are not enough wealthy seniors to realize such a saving.
Bouchard has called on Ottawa to preserve existing levels of transfer payments to the provinces for social programs. He also wants federal taxes reduced for families, especially those with two or more children. The Bloc favors a new income-support system to replace welfare, unemployment insurance and child-tax credits.
The federal government, the Liberals say, should continue to set national standards for health care and to prohibit user fees.
In Chrétien’s words, he wants to preserve a medicare system where “if we go to a hospital, it’s not because we’re rich, it’s because we’re Canadian citizens and we’re sick.” However, Chrétien says that as prime minister he would chair a national forum to discuss new ways to control health costs.
Campbell says that she would be willing to throw herself “across the railway tracks” to preserve universal health care. She says that she is opposed to user fees for “medically necessary services”—but has failed to define what that includes. Campbell promises to maintain adequate funding for health care, even though the Tories have effectively reduced the amount of money Ottawa gives to the provinces for health care.
According to McLaughlin, she is the only party leader who can be trusted to preserve and fully fund universal health care. At the same time, she says her party will attempt to control costs by emphasizing preventive medicine and rescinding Tory drug-patent legislation that makes it harder for cheaper generic drugs to enter the market.
Manning promises to maintain federal funding for health care “at current levels or even higher.” But he would also give provinces the freedom to deliver and fund medicare as they see fit, including the right to allow user fees and extra billing. He insists that his proposals are intended to save, not sacrifice, the principle of universal health care. However, critics charge that this could limit the accessibility and portability of medicare.
Bouchard says that he supports universal health care and opposes user fees for essential services. But while he wants Ottawa to preserve federal funding for medicare, he agrees with Manning that the provinces should have unfettered control over the way services are provided. That would include, if they so chose, the right to impose user fees.
Chrétien says that separatists have always been a fact of life in his home province— and probably always will be. As an unabashed federalist, he says that he is in a strong position to fight any future separatist government in Quebec. “I know Quebecers,” he says. “They are very proud of being Quebecers, but they are very happy to be part of Canada and they don’t want basically to choose.”
The defeat of the Meech Lake and Charlottetown constitutional accords—both of which Campbell strongly supported—cost the Tories support among nationalist Quebecers and left the party without a coherent policy on national unity. Campbell now speaks vaguely of Quebecers feeling alienated because of “the sense that government is not at the service of the people.”
McLaughlin has not made clear how she would deal with the election of a separatist government in Quebec. She says that Canadians, including Quebecers, are tired of constitutional bickering and that the key to keeping the country together is reducing unemployment and maintaining universal social programs.
Manning wants to deny Quebec separatists the “soft, mushy ground of sovereignty-association.” Quebecers, he says, must choose between staying in Canada with no special status or leaving Confederation without any assurance of a continued economic association, including a common currency. In return for accepting his “new federalism,” Manning would give all provinces exclusive control over language and culture.
According to Bouchard, the failure of the Meech Lake and the Charlottetown constitutional accords leaves Quebec with only one option: sovereignty. But like his provincial counterpart, Parti Québécois Leader Jacques Parizeau, the Bloc leader foresees a continuing economic association between Quebec and Canada, including the free circulation of people, goods, capital and services, as well as a common currency.
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