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Business

Canada’s economy has stagnated despite Ottawa’s spin

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5 minute read

From the Fraser Institute

By Ben Eisen, Milagros Palacios and Lawrence Schembri

Canada’s inflation-adjusted per-person annual economic growth rate (0.7 per cent) is meaningfully worse than the G7 average (1.0 per cent) over this same period. The gap with the U.S. (1.2 per cent) is even larger. Only Italy performed worse than Canada.

Growth in gross domestic product (GDP), the total value of all goods and services produced in the economy annually, is one of the most frequently cited indicators of Canada’s economic performance. Journalists, politicians and analysts often compare various measures of Canada’s total GDP growth to other countries, or to Canada’s past performance, to assess the health of the economy and living standards. However, this statistic is misleading as a measure of living standards when population growth rates vary greatly across countries or over time.

Federal Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland, for example, recently boasted that Canada had experienced the “strongest economic growth in the G7” in 2022. Although the Trudeau government often uses international comparisons on aggregate GDP growth as evidence of economic success, it’s not the first to do so. In 2015, then-prime minister Stephen Harper said Canada’s GDP growth was “head and shoulders above all our G7 partners over the long term.”

Unfortunately, such statements do more to obscure public understanding of Canada’s economic performance than enlighten it. In reality, aggregate GDP growth statistics are not driven by productivity improvements and do not reflect rising living standards. Instead, they’re primarily the result of differences in population and labour force growth. In other words, they aren’t primarily the result of Canadians becoming better at producing goods and services (i.e. productivity) and thus generating more income for their families. Instead, they primarily reflect the fact that there are simply more people working, which increases the total amount of goods and services produced but doesn’t necessarily translate into increased living standards.

Let’s look at the numbers. Canada’s annual average GDP growth (with no adjustment for population) from 2000 to 2023 was the second-highest in the G7 at 1.8 per cent, just behind the United States at 1.9 per cent. That sounds good, until you make a simple adjustment for population changes by comparing GDP per person. Then a completely different story emerges.

Canada’s inflation-adjusted per-person annual economic growth rate (0.7 per cent) is meaningfully worse than the G7 average (1.0 per cent) over this same period. The gap with the U.S. (1.2 per cent) is even larger. Only Italy performed worse than Canada.

Why the inversion of results from good to bad? Because Canada has had by far the fastest population growth rate in the G7, growing at an annualized rate of 1.1 per cent—more than twice the annual population growth rate of the G7 as a whole at 0.5 per cent. In aggregate, Canada’s population increased by 29.8 per cent during this time period compared to just 11.5 per cent in the entire G7.

Clearly, aggregate GDP growth is a poor tool for international comparisons. It’s also not a good way to assess changes in Canada’s performance over time because Canada’s rate of population growth has not been constant. Starting in 2016, sharply higher rates of immigration have led to a pronounced increase in population growth. This increase has effectively partially obscured historically weak economic growth per person over the same period.

Specifically, from 2015 to 2023, under the Trudeau government, inflation-adjusted per-person economic growth averaged just 0.3 per cent. For historical perspective, per-person economic growth was 0.8 per cent annually under Brian Mulroney, 2.4 per cent under Jean Chrétien and 2.0 per cent under Paul Martin.

Due to Canada’s sharp increase in population growth in recent years, aggregate GDP growth is a misleading indicator for comparing economic growth performance across countries or time periods. Canada is not leading the G7, or doing well in historical terms, when it comes to economic growth measures that make simple adjustments for our rapidly growing population. In reality, we’ve become a growth laggard and our living standards have largely stagnated for the better part of a decade.

Economy

Prime minister’s misleading capital gains video misses the point

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From the Fraser Institute

By Jake Fuss and Alex Whalen

According to a 2021 study published by the Fraser Institute, 38.4 per cent of those who paid capital gains taxes in Canada earned less than $100,000 per year, and 18.3 per cent earned less than $50,000. Yet in his video, Prime Minister Trudeau claims that his capital gains tax hike will affect only the richest “0.13 per cent of Canadians”

This week, Prime Minister Trudeau released a video about his government’s decision to increase capital gains taxes. Unfortunately, he made several misleading claims while failing to acknowledge the harmful effects this tax increase will have on a broad swath of Canadians.

Right now, individuals and businesses who sell capital assets pay taxes on 50 per cent of the gain (based on their full marginal rate). Beginning on June 25, however, the Trudeau government will increase that share to 66.7 per cent for capital gains above $250,000. People with gains above that amount will again pay their full marginal rate, but now on two-thirds of the gain.

In the video, which you can view online, the prime minister claims that this tax increase will affect only the “very richest” people in Canada and will generate significant new revenue—$20 billion, according to him—to pay for social programs. But economic research and data on capital gains taxes reveal a different picture.

For starters, it simply isn’t true that capital gains taxes only affect the wealthy. Many Canadians who incur capital gains taxes, such as small business owners, may only do so once in their lifetimes.

For example, a plumber who makes $90,000 annually may choose to sell his business for $500,000 at retirement. In that year, the plumber’s income is exaggerated because it includes the capital gain rather than only his normal income. In fact, according to a 2021 study published by the Fraser Institute, 38.4 per cent of those who paid capital gains taxes in Canada earned less than $100,000 per year, and 18.3 per cent earned less than $50,000. Yet in his video, Prime Minister Trudeau claims that his capital gains tax hike will affect only the richest “0.13 per cent of Canadians” with an “average income of $1.4 million a year.”

But this is a misleading statement. Why? Because it creates a distorted view of who will pay these capital gains taxes. Many Canadians with modest annual incomes own businesses, second homes or stocks and could end up paying these higher taxes following a onetime sale where the appreciation of their asset equals at least $250,000.

Moreover, economic research finds that capital taxes remain among the most economically damaging forms of taxation precisely because they reduce the incentive to innovate and invest. By increasing them the government will deter investment in Canada and chase away capital at a time when we badly need it. Business investment, which is crucial to boost living standards and incomes for Canadians, is collapsing in Canada. This tax hike will make a bad economic situation worse.

Finally, as noted, in the video the prime minister claims that this tax increase will generate “almost $20 billion in new revenue.” But investors do not incur capital gains taxes until they sell an asset and realize a gain. A higher capital gains tax rate gives them an incentive to hold onto their investments, perhaps until the rate is reduced after a change in government. According to economists, this “lock-in” effect can stifle economic activity. The Trudeau government likely bases its “$20 billion” number on an assumption that investors will sell their assets sooner rather than later—perhaps before June 25, to take advantage of the old inclusion rate before it disappears (although because the government has not revealed exactly how the new rate will apply that seems less likely). Of course, if revenue from the tax hike does turn out to be less than anticipated, the government will incur larger budget deficits than planned and plunge us further into debt.

Contrary to Prime Minister Trudeau’s claims, raising capital gains taxes will not improve fairness. It’s bad for investment, the economy and the living standards of Canadians.

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Business

Ottawa should end war on plastics for sake of the environment

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From the Fraser Institute

By Kenneth P. Green

Here’s the shocker: Meng shows that for 15 out of the 16 uses, plastic products incur fewer GHG emissions than their alternatives…

For example, when you swap plastic grocery bags for paper, you get 80 per cent higher GHG emissions. Substituting plastic furniture for wood—50 per cent higher GHG emissions. Substitute plastic-based carpeting with wool—80 per cent higher GHG emissions.

It’s been known for years that efforts to ban plastic products—and encourage people to use alternatives such as paper, metal or glass—can backfire. By banning plastic waste and plastic products, governments lead consumers to switch to substitutes, but those substitutes, mainly bulkier and heavier paper-based products, mean more waste to manage.

Now a new study by Fanran Meng of the University of Sheffield drives the point home—plastic substitutes are not inherently better for the environment. Meng uses comprehensive life-cycle analysis to understand how plastic substitutes increase or decrease greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by assessing the GHG emissions of 16 uses of plastics in five major plastic-using sectors: packaging, building and construction, automotive, textiles and consumer durables. These plastics, according to Meng, account for about 90 per cent of global plastic volume.

Here’s the shocker: Meng shows that for 15 out of the 16 uses, plastic products incur fewer GHG emissions than their alternatives. Read that again. When considering 90 per cent of global plastic use, alternatives to plastic lead to greater GHG emissions than the plastic products they displace. For example, when you swap plastic grocery bags for paper, you get 80 per cent higher GHG emissions. Substituting plastic furniture for wood—50 per cent higher GHG emissions. Substitute plastic-based carpeting with wool—80 per cent higher GHG emissions.

A few substitutions were GHG neutral, such as swapping plastic drinking cups and milk containers with paper alternatives. But overall, in the 13 uses where a plastic product has lower emissions than its non-plastic alternatives, the GHG emission impact is between 10 per cent and 90 per cent lower than the next-best alternatives.

Meng concludes that “Across most applications, simply switching from plastics to currently available non-plastic alternatives is not a viable solution for reducing GHG emissions. Therefore, care should be taken when formulating policies or interventions to reduce plastic demand that they result in the removal of the plastics from use rather than a switch to an alternative material” adding that “applying material substitution strategies to plastics never really makes sense.” Instead, Meng suggests that policies encouraging re-use of plastic products would more effectively reduce GHG emissions associated with plastics, which, globally, are responsible for 4.5 per cent of global emissions.

The Meng study should drive the last nail into the coffin of the war on plastics. This study shows that encouraging substitutes for plastic—a key element of the Trudeau government’s climate plan—will lead to higher GHG emissions than sticking with plastics, making it more difficult to achieve the government’s goal of making Canada a “net-zero” emitter of GHG by 2050.

Clearly, the Trudeau government should end its misguided campaign against plastic products, “single use” or otherwise. According to the evidence, plastic bans and substitution policies not only deprive Canadians of products they value (and in many cases, products that protect human health), they are bad for the environment and bad for the climate. The government should encourage Canadians to reuse their plastic products rather than replace them.

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