Say goodbye to Silly Season and hello to Serious Season

We’re reduced to this: arguing about whether or not Adele should have worn a Jamaican-themed outfit to a London Caribbean festival and getting worked up about some young radicals in Montreal pulling down and beheading a much-ignored statue of John A Macdonald.

This is a good way for Silly Season to depart. (Silly Season is the annual news void of late summer when everybody’s out of the office, away from school and lying about with little to do, leaving media organizations and the bored to turn silly and unimportant stories into front page news – day after day after day.) For most of us, summer officially ends next Tuesday, when the kids go back to school, everybody returns to the office (or the Zoom and from-home equivalent) and things get serious. I call it The Return of Serious Season.

I predict stories like Adele’s outfit and statue vandalism will quickly evaporate as people shake the summer sand out of their folds and cracks and return to thinking about Things that Really Matter. What will those be? Who knows? Hopefully it’s not just about inflammatory things Donald Trump says and does. But it’s hard to stave off the enormous gravitational pull of a U.S. election, even for British North Americans like we Canadians.

On our side of the border I think there’s a chance to have a serious debate about a crucial economic, financial and political issue. We could see a true philosophical split highlighted starkly for us if the Liberal government opts for heavy Keynesian spending in the next session of Parliament, beginning September 23, and the Conservative official opposition cleaves to the fiscal rectitude most of its prominent members appear to hold and its new leader, Erin O’Toole appears to champion. Is now the time for government to step in and fill the gaping hole in aggregate demand that the pandemic-inspired recession has created, or is now the time to shore up the fiscal ship after a deluge of early-pandemic spending? That’s a serious issue and there’s no easy answer, except for the simple-minded. If there ever was a time for Keynesian deficit spending, it’s today. The conditions are 1930s-like. When domestic demand dies, it’s the place for the government to be spender-of-last-resort. But if there ever was a time to worry about Canada falling into a crippling debt trap, it’s today, with deficit levels hitting unprecedented and shock-and-awe-inspiring levels. It’s hard to reconcile those opposing concerns. If we could see into the future we would know which is the right path. If the recession is beginning to end and we’re going to just naturally crawl out of it, like we do with most recessions, it makes sense to restrain the spending now and shore up the ship. If we’re about to slip into the next dip of a multi-dip recession/depression, the time to be doing major spending is soon.

So we might get a serious policy discussion out of this next session of Parliament. That’d be better than the endless bickering over the WE mini-scandal of the summer. Whether or not the Prime Minister and Finance Minister crossed ethical lines with a charity has exercised and excited political partisans of all stripes, but for most people it doesn’t have much impact on their lives. For most, it’s been a Silly Season distraction most have ignored. The direction of federal spending this fall, and after a possible fall or winter election, will have a huge impact on all Canadians.

I don’t know which course is the right one, for the reasons I laid out above. That depends on the shape of the future. My biggest hope is that if the country does embrace hefty Keynesian spending, that spending comes in the form of major projects rather than just consumption spending. Spending billions on providing broadband and wifi to every part of Canada would do a lot of good in setting up this nation for the post COVID-19 world. How about rebuilding the rail line to Churchill? I’m sure we have a bunch of aging infrastructure that needs rebuilding. Just sending cheques to people won’t achieve nearly as much for Canada’s future, but it’d be easy and popular with many.

So buckle up, and if I’m right we’ll get a serious policy debate this autumn that actually affects all of our lives. And we’ll forget all about Adele’s outfit.

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