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Politics, Life and Journalism in Northumberland County, Ontario

Good economic news should not make us blind

A steady trickle of economist, politicians and pundits are telling Canadians the recession is over, at least technically.  Prime Minister Stephen Harper gave his state of the economy speech in St. John to

Bank of Canada Deputy Governor Timothy Lane announced the economy was puling out of the recession and the American Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, among others, have joined a growing chorus of cheerleaders.

This is based on a number of indicators, which show increases in key performance indicators, stability in the American banks; as well, the feeling of improvement is propped up by gains in the stock markets, as investors slowly see their dividends returning at greater rates.

And to add to the boisterous tone, a Nanos Economic Monitor poll released last week said Canadian are experiencing levels of economic optimism no seen in nearly two years.

It seems the pollster, economists, politicians and pundits must be talking to each other because they are certainly not talking to 486,000 Canadian who lost full-time jobs since the recession began a year ago.

These are the people who are feeling the pain of this economy. These are the ones who are watching their chances of returning to find job equal value slowly disappearing and their employment insurance benefits running out like sand through an hourglass.

Workers who were making decent money are now expected to work for half their previous wage. There are approximately 3.3 million Canadian who are working less than 30-hours per week, which means they are part time.

And what is most frightening, nine per cent of families of employed workers in Canada live below the poverty line.  The Organization of Economic Co-operation and Development estimates the average for its members is seven percent.

All these figures come from an insightful analysis in the weekend edition of the Globe and Mail. And, the message derived from this combination of facts is simple: despite what pollsters, economists, politicians and pundits say, there is a lot a whole lot of hurting going on at a grassroots level.

But a jobless recovery can only spell disaster in the long term. For an economy to work, consumers must have money to spend. If every penny is going toward basics like food and shelter, than any signs of recovery and consumer confidence are smoke and mirrors. Henry Ford said he paid his employees well so they would go out and buy his cars.

If people don’t find jobs, then Canada could experience what is known as a double dip recession, where the current recovery collapses because the unemployed run out of savings or cannot get credit or they run out of safety net programs like EI.

It is time to stop kidding ourselves. We can forget any leadership on a local level from federal or provincial politicians. Northumberland MP Rick Norlock will do nothing other than what the puppeteers in Ottawa tell him. So, it is way too ambitious for him to call an economic summit for Northumberland.

And, we can write off MPP Lou Rinaldi, since he is too busy settling into to his new job as parliamentary assistant to the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing to lead a charge on solving economic issues locally.

As for municipal politicians, they are too busy shaking in their boots to wrestle the economic bear. If they upset the upper tier politicians, then their federal and provincial counterparts will leave them off the grants list during the next round.

Maybe it is time the political wannabes take up the call for action. With a potential federal election on the horizon; a municipal election a year away and a provincial election shortly after that, those interested seeking elected office could step up and fill the vacuum.

In the meantime, we should not turn a blind eye to our neighbours who are suffering from unemployment or are working poor. Poverty and isolation are two ingredients that lead to bitterness and fear. By sharing their burden and raising our voices with theirs, we may be able to stir those paying lip service to these problems into action.

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