I suppose it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Canada’s social democrats have not experienced an ideological epiphany in the past seven months. One might recall that New Democratic party (NDP) premier Lorne Calvert in calling an election for November 7th declared that growth was a good thing so long as its “benefits” were shared.
This revolutionary statement was made to distinguish social democrats from the growthists on the right who simply promised that growth’s benefits would “trickle down” to the less fortunate without state intervention. But between them was complete unanimity that growth should proceed. The boreal forest would continue to be clear cut no matter how timber royalties were spent, potential farmland would be sold for housing, wetlands would be cleared for development and uranium mined.
In a speech given 22 May 08 to the Shepherds of Good Hope, NDP leader Jack Layton revealed that his party had not changed its attitude to growth:
“As a country, we have a responsibility to ensure that no member of our society is denied the essentials of life. But today, we are seeing a very disturbing trend in Canada: the growing gap between the rich and everyone else. More wealth (sic) is being generated than ever before—but that does not mean that everyone is better off. In fact, the opposite is true. The reason is pretty clear―the benefits of economic growth (sic) are not being shared equally among all Canadians.”
Oh Jack. So that’s what’s wrong with economic growth? Just that its benefits are not being shared equally among all Canadians. Well they certainly weren’t shared equally in NDP British Columbia, NDP Saskatchewan and NDP Manitoba. All three provinces recorded the worst child poverty rates in the country. And homeless people were out on the street in force in the latter half of the nineties in BC too, during the NDP reign. The growing gap between top and bottom income levels also rose during their tenure. Analysts even on the left also report that the gap between social classes or at least regionally between north and south actually grew under Tony Blair’s centre-left government. Clearly there is a gap between the rhetoric of social equality and its delivery. And just as clearly, economic growth is not the mechanism of that delivery.
But I thought what was wrong with economic growth was what it did while it was “growing”. Eating into natural capital and destroying real wealth in creating the “wealth” that Mr. Layton defines as such. For what is “wealth”? Is it the toys we accumulate with all this economic activity? The consumer goods, the cars, the furniture, the sparkling new housing units? What is it? Seldom factored in as wealth are the 33 trillion dollars worth of biodiversity services that the planet provides free of charge to support human life. Services which are daily being destroyed by relentless economic growth. Clean water, unpolluted air, healthy vibrant fish stocks in our lakes and streams, viable microorganisms―these constitute the real wealth of the nation that are not to be “shared” and parceled out like tax rebates to Jack Layton’s low income constituency or offered to the developers’ greed. When are we going to a measuring stick that reflects this fact and replaces GDP and the statistics politicians are using to test reality?
To seal the deal Layton was asked by veteran parliamentary reporter Mike Duffy if his plan to tax the worst corporate polluters might impede economic growth. Layton quickly reassured him, “Oh, no, look at Germany. Thegovernment forced penalties on the car manufacturers and revenue went to the development of wind turbines. There is more economic growth now than before.” Layton’s plan is in opposition to the Liberal-Green plan to introduce carbon taxes. He apparently has not heard the news that the Royal Academy of Sciences concluded that ALL economic growth must end if we are to stop short of raising global temperatures by that critical 2 degree tipping point.
Tim Murray, 1 Jun 08
See also: Growth is OK if it is shared? of 12 Oct 07.