QP Briefing. Government takes credit for job gains, avoiding ‘carbon tax recession’

By David Hains

It’s the carbon tax recession that never was.

One year after Premier Doug Ford made solemn warnings that the federal carbon backstop would usher in a “carbon tax recession” and would be “job-killing,” the Ontario government celebrated a strong year of employment growth.

Ontario saw 25,100 net new jobs in December, according to preliminary Statistics Canada data. That capped off a year in which Ontario added 243,000 jobs.

Economic Development Minister Vic Fedeli celebrated the number in a Friday morning press availability, crediting the PC government with creating the jobs due to policies like lowering Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) premiums and cutting red tape.

“These jobs are not created by accident,” he said, citing an upwards trend in employment since the Progressive Conservatives formed government in June 2018.

“Ontario is heading in the right direction,” he added.

It was a starkly different bookend to the 2019 numbers than how it began. A year ago, Ford poured cold water on Ontario’s economic outlook by saying that the federal Liberal government’s signature environmental policy, the carbon backstop, would cut into economic growth and cost jobs.

At the time economists cast a skeptical eye on the premier’s jeremiad, arguing that the underlying data didn’t back up what he said. A year of strong economic growth later, they appeared to be proven right.

But Fedeli responded in a Rumsfeldian manner, arguing that we don’t know what the alternate history of Ontario without the carbon backstop would look like. “We don’t know what didn’t come here,” he said, raising the idea that the province could have seen more jobs without the federal policy. The Ontario government continues to fight the constitutionality of the carbon backstop in court.

The opposition took the opportunity to take the government to task for what they saw as having it both ways.

“The Ford government must stop talking out of both sides of its mouth,” stated Green Leader Mike Schreiner. “If they are going to tout a strong economy, then they must drop the act about the carbon tax hurting the economy. These numbers undermine the Conservative rhetoric and confirm that putting a price on climate pollution does not harm the economy.”

As recently as October 29 Energy Minister Greg Rickford bemoaned the “job-killing carbon tax” in question period, saying it hurt regional economic fortunes.

The NDP also questioned the approach from the government.

“This government has been fear-mongering about the effects of a carbon tax,” said MPP Catherine Fife, who also said that the job gains weren’t being felt in some parts of the province, like Peterborough, Guelph and Windsor.

She also highlighted that the strong economic headwinds weakens the government’s claim that it can’t afford to offer teachers a cost-of-living increase in contract negotiations. “This government has intentionally created a crisis in education,” she said. Later in the day OSSTF, the union that represents high school teachers and other education workers, said it would have another partial one-day strike next week.

Fedeli pushed back against the idea that Ontario’s strong economic fortunes mean that the government’s austerity negotiating position with teachers is undermined. “There’s still a long way to go. We have a tremendous amount of work,” he said, arguing that the work to eliminate the deficit will still require plenty of heavy lifting.

“Everybody needs to be involved. This is about building Ontario together,” he added, staying on-message and invoking the slogan emblazoned on the blue sign beneath his podium.

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