And now for some things we won’t be talking about

Election campaigns are no time to talk about the issues, as Prime Minister Kim Campbell famously said during the 1993 running of the reptiles.

Election campaigns are no time to talk about the issues, as Prime Minister Kim Campbell famously said during the 1993 running of the reptiles.

Despite Campbell’s historic flameout in that election, it seems that the current crop of Canadian politicians agree with her. While we can expect a lot of noisy rhetoric in the next few weeks, our leaders will scrupulously avoid serious proposals about some of the biggest issues on the table: our aging population, Canada’s security relationship with the United States and climate change.

None of these are new issues of course. It’s just that dealing with them is likely to be so uncomfortable that no vote-seeking candidate wants to bring them up. Each is the electoral equivalent of buying your wife a Weight Watcher’s membership for her birthday.

The Green party is a bit different from the others, at least on climate change. But once John Q. Canuck and the rest of the voting public understand their “Vote for us and we’ll raise gas prices!” platform, we will likely see them confirm the logic of Kim Campbell’s quip.

Aging is a particularly big deal. Ben Bernanke, chairman of the US Federal Reserve and not the kind of guy who indulges in hyperbole, described it a few years ago as likely the biggest issue society faces.

To understand why this is, consider a few figures. According to United Nations statisticians, Canada’s old-age dependency ratio was 12 per cent in 1950. This means that for every 100 people aged 15 to 64, there were 12 senior citizens who supposedly “depended” on them for support after work. That’s roughly eight “workers” for every “retiree.” (From the amount of work most of us get out of 15-18 year olds this definition of “workers” may seem strange; the statistics date from a simpler time).

Today in Canada, the dependency ratio is 20 per cent. Given birth rates and lengthening life expectancy, it is expected to head inexorably up to 43 per cent in 2050.

When the Canada Pension Plan was founded in 1965, it was a “pay-as-you-go plan.” This means that each year’s payments to retirees were funded by payments collected from workers that year. That was fine when there were eight or more workers for each retiree.

At first this seemed wonderful. Economist Paul Samuelson described it in 1967 like this: “The beauty of social insurance is that it is actuarially unsound. Everyone who reaches retirement age is given benefit privileges that far exceed anything he has paid in – exceed his payments by more than 10 times (or five times counting employer payments)!”

But this only worked as long as the population was growing. By the 1990s, another economist, Milton Friedman, was describing social security as “the biggest Ponzi scheme on earth.”

You can see this from the numbers above: in the 1950s and 1960s there were eight workers paying taxes for each retiree. In 2050, there will be only about one.

To address this problem, the Canada Pension Plan has been shifted to be partly – but not fully – funded by worker contributions. This solves part of the problem, but the other impacts of aging have not been planned for. They include rising health care costs, slower economic growth, slower growth in tax revenues and labour and expertise shortages.

Imagine how big the provincial health care budgets will have to be when almost half the population is over 65 years.

But don’t expect many candidates to talk about raising the retirement age, hiking CPP contributions further, ending early retirement benefits or changing how health care is financed.

The second issue is our security perimeter with the United States.

Talks are underway about how to harmonize North America’s external border, while easing access between Canada and the United States.

If Poland, Germany and France can agree on such a scheme, the thinking goes, then perhaps Canada and the US could too. This could have important economic and social benefits for Canadians. It doesn’t help anyone when trucks with Canadian built components for Detroit car plants are held up for hours every day at the Windsor border.

Making the border less of a barrier for business (and American tourists coming North) in a way that is consistent with Canadian values and sovereignty should be high on the national agenda. Instead, our politicians are tiptoeing around the issue, probably hoping that the official-level talks remain ignored deep inside the bowels of the Foreign Affairs and Homeland Security departments.

If any politicians bring it up, it will probably be to wrap themselves in the flag and attack the idea on “sovereignty” grounds. That’s always a cheap and easy way to get media attention.

The third issue is climate change. After watching Stephane Dion’s 2008 campaign implode when he proposed a serious carbon tax, the Conservatives, Liberals and NDP will avoid the concept. Instead we will hear about green investments, subsidies for renewable power and insulating your home (if you missed the five previous programs to do this). All worthy stuff, but until the price signal gets stronger we won’t see a serious reduction in carbon emissions in this country.

The Green party is up front about their plan for a carbon tax. They call it Green Shift, and intend to lower income taxes to compensate. It will be interesting to see how the other parties react to this unusual frankness in a political platform. But given voter behaviour, they are as likely to win the next election as Dion was.

But before we criticize our politicians for being superficial and short-term, we should remember that we’re the ones that have trained them to avoid tough issues. Dion can attest to that, wherever he is now.

Keith Halliday is a Yukon economist and author of the Aurore of the Yukon series of historical children’s adventure novels.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Children’s performer Claire Ness poses for a photo for the upcoming annual Pivot Festival. “Claire Ness Morning” will be a kid-friendly performance streamed on the morning of Jan. 30. (Photo courtesy Erik Pinkerton Photography)
Pivot Festival provides ‘delight and light’ to a pandemic January

The festival runs Jan. 20 to 30 with virtual and physically distant events

The Boulevard of Hope was launched by the Yukon T1D Support Network and will be lit up throughout January. It is aimed at raising awareness about Yukoners living with Type 1 diabetes. (Stephanie Waddell/Yukon News)
Boulevard of Hope sheds light on Type 1 diabetes

Organizers hope to make it an annual event

City of Whitehorse city council meeting in Whitehorse on Oct. 5, 2020. An updated council procedures bylaw was proposed at Whitehorse city council’s Jan. 18 meeting that would see a few changes to council meetings and how council handles certain matters like civil emergencies. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Whitehorse procedures bylaw comes forward

New measures proposed for how council could deal with emergencies

A Yukon survey querying transportation between communities has already seen hundreds of participants and is the latest review highlighting the territory’s gap in accessibility. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Multiple reports, survey decry lack of transportation between Yukon communities

A Community Travel survey is the latest in a slew of initiatives pointing to poor accessibility

Mobile vaccine team Team Balto practises vaccine clinic set-up and teardown at Vanier Catholic Secondary School. Mobile vaccine teams are heading out this week to the communities in order to begin Moderna vaccinations. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
Mobile vaccine teams begin community vaccinations

“It’s an all-of-government approach”

A file photo of grizzly bear along the highway outside Dawson City. Yukon conservation officers euthanized a grizzly bear Jan. 15 that was originally sighted near Braeburn. (Alistair Maitland/Yukon News file)
Male grizzly euthanized near Braeburn

Yukon conservation officers have euthanized a grizzly bear that was originally sighted… Continue reading

Mayor Dan Curtis listens to a councillor on the phone during a city council meeting in Whitehorse on April 14, 2020. Curtis announced Jan. 14 that he intends to seek nomination to be the Yukon Liberal candidate for Whitehorse Centre in the 2021 territorial election. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Whitehorse mayor seeking nomination for territorial election

Whitehorse mayor Dan Curtis is preparing for a run in the upcoming… Continue reading

Gerard Redinger was charged under the <em>Civil Emergency Measures Act</em> with failing to self-isolate and failing to transit through the Yukon in under 24 hours. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
Man ticketed $1,150 at Wolf Creek campground for failing to self-isolate

Gerard Redinger signed a 24-hour transit declaration, ticketed 13 days later

Yukon Energy, Solvest Inc. and Chu Níikwän Development Corporation are calling on the city for a meeting to look at possibilities for separate tax rates or incentives for renewable energy projects. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Tax changes sought for Whitehorse energy projects

Delegates call for separate property tax category for renewable energy projects

Yukon University has added seven members to its board of governors in recent months. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
New members named to Yukon U’s board of governors

Required number of board members now up to 17

Yukonomist Keith Halliday
Yukonomist: Your Northern regulatory adventure awaits!

“Your Northern adventure awaits!” blared the headline on a recent YESAB assessment… Continue reading

Yukoner Shirley Chua-Tan is taking on the role of vice-chair of the social inclusion working group with the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences’ oversight panel and working groups for the autism assessment. (Submitted)
Canadian Academy of Health Sciences names Yukoner to panel

Shirley Chua-Tan is well-known for a number of roles she plays in… Continue reading

Most Read