The Government’s Got a Jobs Problem

Nobody likes being unemployed. It’s one of life’s harder circumstances to face, and not just because of the pressure that a stack of mounting bills and everyday expenses can exert on your finances. Unemployment’s most insidious effect, particularly in these increasingly desperate times, is the toll it takes on your confidence, your ability to hold your head up, drop off more resumes at more reception desks, and grin through clenched teeth at the narrow prospects. It generates a disdain for the people at the top, people like politicians and bank CEOs who seem to hold the economic keys, yet for some reason refuse to open the door. As for the big banks and finance firms, well, their self-interest has been met with rather public displays of discontent recently; for an elected government, though, the foot-dragging is becoming increasingly inexcusable and the cries for action could become equally loud.

Frustrations mount when you can’t find a job, and they mount quickly. It is debilitating, the sense of helplessness, the perception of futility in looking for work. We humans are, in many ways, fragile beings who do not handle rejection well. A constant stream of letters and email responses with that dreaded “Thank you, but…” chips away at your self-worth, your dreams, your long-term goals. It can be hard to focus on where you want your life to be in 5 or 10 years when you constantly worry about how you’re going to keep the lights on this month, pay the rent, and still find some money for groceries. If you’re young, fresh off the graduate podium with a degree in hand, and find yourself far from starting a stable career to build a life around, the paradoxical burden of having no work at all is especially acute.

The Canadian government still points fingers at an international economic problem as the root of any domestic troubles, as though they too have no option but to stand by, shrug their collective shoulders, and tell us all it’s just too bad but they can’t do much to stop it. Of course, modern economics are complicated, and the causes of our current employment problems are part of the larger mess that has left people across the world wrangling with unemployment and instability. Admittedly, Canada’s economic fate is still—and will likely continue to be for a long time—inextricably linked with that of the United States. As go the Americans, so go we; despite all our differences, Canada is still very much at the mercy of American money.

To their credit, the government has at least started to address the issue. The Minister of Finance tabled the Keeping Canada’s Economy & Jobs Growing Act this week, legislation meant to address the calls for them to do something, anything, to address the situation. The bill has its flaws—notably the deeply controversial provision that phases out political party subsidies—but contains a few noble measures nonetheless. The introduction of a hiring tax credit to encourage small businesses to take on new employees is, ostensibly, sound policy. The only problem is that the bill is really doing little more than patching the hole of inaction and will not result in many immediate improvements, as desperately needed as they are.

The fact is, until the government begins diverting money away from frivolous spending on jets and prisons, and into badly needed investments in infrastructure and other sectors, job growth will stagnate. Essentially, if the country is indeed dipping back into recession as so many economists are now predicting, stimulus will again be necessary. The Harper brand of Conservatives aren’t centrists: these are people who don’t believe the government should get involved in a country’s economic affairs, and that ideology almost always forbids direct spending. In the government’s eyes, anything that costs money will drive up taxes—and for them, there is no higher sin.

Unfortunately for their ideology, the current state may well prove untenable, and the option not to act may quickly disappear. Seeds of discontent are growing, and those frustrated, angry, well-educated graduates sitting in financial centres from Wall Street to Bay Street could very well be a harbinger of things to come. People struggling to pay the bills aren’t happy people. Factor in heavy student loan debts and no prospects, and you create a volatile mixture that can easily bring down political support like a falling rock. If the problems aren’t addressed soon, the bubbling pot will boil over and the government, now with an awful mess on its hands, will have no choice but to act and garner real results that generate real jobs—if only to save their own seats in Parliament.

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