Room for political consensus: infrastructure

The past few months leading up to the Federal Election were chalked full of heavy media coverage of the various campaigns, political attack ads (on opponents’ policies and, at times, character), debates, and repetitive rhetorical quips – many of which are probably still (painfully) etched in the minds of many Canadians through obnoxious over-exposure. Through such activities, the competing parties aimed to differentiate themselves from one another by accentuating whichever differences between them make the party in question appear more desirable than their opponents.

Naturally, this contemporary fashion of campaigning makes each side look irrevocably different from the other and the multilateral demonization of one another propagates discord between, not only the parties, but voting Canadians as well – the contemporary campaign (and arguably all political campaigns) is never won by displaying ideological overlap with one’s opponent or the potential for cooperation (e.g. even Trudeau’s purported desire for bipartisanship is grounded in the claim that his opponents are different in that they do not desire the same). Though the bitter wounds of the Federal Election may still be fresh on all sides, it may be time to start pointing out potential points of political consensus concealed by each parties’ brutal 78-day marketing campaign.

There is a particular issue, spear-headed by the Trudeau campaign, that conservatives may be able to get on board with – infrastructural development. The liberal’s large infrastructural development plan (18 billion dollars annually or 1 per cent of Canadian GDP according to the Huffington Post) may at first glance appear to be the kind of policy that conservatives would lampoon as an example of “big government’s” wasteful spending. Yet, if politically astute, the Conservative Party should realize that if increases in expenditure are inevitable they could at least work with liberals to funnel tax dollars into projects that better approximate their own views. When it comes to the Liberal party’s general platform, there are several reasons why infrastructural development could be considered “the least of evils” for conservatives – and in some ways even beneficial.

Protestors in Seattle aiming to raise the minium wage to $15/ hour

Protestors in Seattle aiming to raise the minium wage to $15/ hour

According to CBC the Liberal Party aims “to nearly double Canada’s spending on infrastructure, part of the party’s pitch to create jobs and stimulate economic growth”. Such increases in deficit spending is undoubtedly terrifying to rank-and-file conservatives – but using infrastructure as the route to achieving job creation and economic growth is something conservatives would not only likely find some element of truth in (according to Winnipeg Free Press, conservatives claim that infrastructure funding has gone from “$500 million a year in 2004, to more than $5 billion annually under their watch”) but also much more preferable to other policy positions more traditionally associated with liberal politics.

The room for consensus on infrastructure can be better brought to light through comparing and contrasting this issue with the (more liberal wing of the) US Democratic Party’s recent push for raising minimum wage. Through raising the minimum wage, Democrats aim to increase the standard of living for lower income workers. Fiscal conservatives generally claim that such an action would increase the cost of labor and thus lead to lower employment coupled with potential increases in the cost of goods and services. Forbes points out that Seattle’s recent increase of minimum wage to $11 an hour (which will gradually increase to $15 by 2017) seems to have conveniently coincided with the “loss of 1,000 restaurant jobs in May” which was the “largest one month job decline since a 1,300 drop in January 2009”. Also, conservative economists claim that those who are left unemployed by wage hikes tend to be lower income and less educated individuals – the very people such measures are supposed to help – as the more educated and those with higher incomes (e.g. middle class teenagers) are more incentivized to enter the job market due to the increase in wage. Neo-liberal economists have innumerable other arguments they employ against hikes in minimum wage – but infrastructure is a little different.

There are several reasons as to why conservatives would find increasing expenditure on infrastructure much more preferable to other traditionally liberal policies such as increasing minimum wage, or expanding welfare programs. Infrastructural development is undoubtedly a form of government spending but it is one that helps consumers and producers across the board, rather than particular groups or income levels, and may be conceived as an investment rather than baseless expenditure. Infrastructure helps (arguably) all producers and consumers in that it facilitates the growth of economic transactions. A new road allows consumers to go purchase goods they haven’t had access to before or a producer to ship goods to consumers that had previously been unreachable. A new subway line allows city-based employees to travel to and from work more fluidly or work in a region of the city that had been impractical to work in before. Infrastructure projects are also conducive to increasing market competition in that producers can better access their competitor’s market base as infrastructure allows for consumers to “take their business elsewhere” – which leads to a healthier and more robust economy according to conservative economic ideology.

Although conservatives may argue that there are better ways to induce economic growth that don’t involve increased spending, they must consent that infrastructural development is at least more conducive to growth (according to their own economic beliefs) than other more traditional liberal policies. Finally, it should be emphasized that increased economic growth leads to a larger tax pool, which means government spending on infrastructure may be conceived (to some degree) as an investment that may be able to (at least partially) pay off its initial costs in the long run. After their recent defeat, the Conservative Party may want to work with the Trudeau administration in such a way to emphasize those policies, such as infrastructural development, in which there can be found the greatest ideological consensus.

Robert Smith
Assistant External News Editor

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