Friday, December 26, 2008

Still much to be grateful for

© Copyright (c) The Calgary Herald

December 26, 2008

Rarely has a holiday season seemed less infused with good cheer. Job losses are mounting, the economy is pitching and gasping like a hooked trout and Canadians' personal finances are stretched to the limit. For many people, who woke up on Christmas morning to find coal in their stockings, this would only be par for the course. And yet, 'tis the season and despite the low-hanging dark clouds, there are many reasons for Canadians to be grateful for what they have. Take the credit crunch.

Commentary on the current troubles clumps at the negative end of the spectrum, with plenty of pundits describing the situation in the direst of terms as a once-in-a-century crisis with the potential to drag on indefinitely, saddling countries with"lost years"of zero growth. One might imagine the world is teetering on the edge of the Great Depression, the Sequel, but this is not so.

During the Depression, more than a quarter of Canadians were out of work and both Canada and the United States saw declines in gross national product close to 40 per cent. Governments at the time firmly believed financial aid would weaken the national character and did little but raise tariffs (choking trade) and make rosy predictions that the worst would soon pass. Then-prime minister R. B. Bennett cut back spending while to the south, president Herbert Hoover callously held up relief bills and, when asked why so many jobless people were hawking apples in the streets replied, "Many people have left their jobs for the more profitable one of selling apples."

North America has no such governments. Canada and the U.S. both dipped into their respective treasuries and offered billions last week to automakers to preserve jobs. The United States has al-ready poured hundreds of billions of dollars into the economy and the Canadian government will follow suit (albeit on a smaller scale) when Parliament reconvenes in January. Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation member nations, including Canada, also pledged last month not to resort to protectionism, freeing faltering economies from one of the worst Depression-era mistakes. With the news this week that trade barriers are starting to rise a bit despite these promises, leaders must re-commit to living up to their pledges.

Concerned leadership is not the only thing we have to be grateful for. Other parts of the world are beset by troubles which ought to make Canadians appreciate our country for the tranquil oasis it truly is, despite its economic troubles.

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