A happy and prosperous New Year?

The greeting is so familiar every January that I hardly ever pay attention to its meaning. It’s one of those formulaic expressions we all use. Like the formal greeting, ‘How do you do?’ that the English occasionally use when introduced to each other. The proper response is of course is to repeat the question, not to list recent aches and pains. But what exactly do we mean when we wish someone a ‘prosperous’ new year? Can in fact Canadians use the term today and keep a straight face?

According to Stephen Harper and Philippe Couillard, prosperity is what awaits us if we endure their regime of austerity. A little belt tightening now will bring its just rewards at some time in the future. But when either Ottawa or Quebec City reduces public spending programmes and imposes regressive taxation measures, it seems to be the lower and middle incomes that bear the brunt of their policies. ‘There is no alternative’, as Margaret Thatcher was wont to say, appears to have been adopted by our leaders as their slogan. Actually, there is, and it can be found in Scandinavia.

Average Scandinavian workers keep 20% of their salaries, unimaginable for their North American counterparts, yet overall standards of living in Scandanavia are much higher than in America or Canada. They must be doing something right. Their solution? Higher government spending and a more efficient system of collecting all tax revenues. But Canada is unlikely to follow that path.

Can this country rely on its natural resources to guarantee future prosperity? For the forseeable future, shale gas is off the table in Quebec and plummeting oil prices represent a set-back for the Harper government. What resources are left? Canadian companies are sitting on $630-billion in cash reserves while the federal debt amounts to $614-billion. Do the math. These resources need to be exploited and it will take political courage to do so. And this time environmentalists will have no objections.

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