|Graph 1: Consolidated government fixed capital, 1961-2011, Source: Statistics Canada|
This view appears to have caught on. In his recent budget plan, Canada's Minister of Finance, Jim Flaherty, links the labour market's performance during the downturn to the federal stimulus put forth by Stephen Harper's Government after the last recession (see here):
Economic developments since the introduction of the stimulus phase of Canada’s Economic Action Plan underscore its success in protecting Canadian jobs through strong support to the domestic economy. As a result...Canada has posted the strongest growth in employment among G-7 countries...
[G]overnment investments in infrastructure were key to the success of the Economic Action Plan...The budget plan includes the following graphs to support the Government's case that its stimulus was effective in mitigating the impact of the recession:
|Graph 2: Improvement in employment during recovery|
|Graph 3: Unemployment rate, Canada and United States, 2006-2011|
|Graph 4: Growth in real per capita disposable income, 2006-2010|
In graph 2, we see that the improvement in Canada's rate of unemployment during the recovery was the highest among the G7 economies. In graph 3, we see that the unemployment rate fared better in Canada than in the US. In graph 4, we see that disposable income rose faster in Canada than in the other G7 countries during the recovery.
But is the increase in fixed capital expenditures really the result of federal government action? In my earlier post, I was very careful not to associate the increase in fixed public investment in recent years solely with the policy measures put forth by the federal government. Rather, I specified that it was the "combined success of the federal and provincial governments' stimulus measures" which contributed to the effectiveness of Canada's response to the recession. In my view, suggesting otherwise would be misleading given that the data from the National Income and Expenditures Accounts shows that the largest share of fixed public investment in recent years has come from provincial and local governments (see graph 5).
|Graph 5: Public fixed capital, all levels of government, 1961-2011, Source: Statistics Canada|
That said, it would be equally incorrect to suggest that the federal government had no role to play in the recent increase in fixed public investment given that, in Canada, a large share of the income of provincial governments consists of fiscal transfers from the federal government to provinces. As shown in graph 6, federal transfers represent an important source of income for provincial governments. And interestingly enough, in recent years there has been a considerable increase in the amount of federal transfers to provincial governments.
|Graph 6: Provincial government income from federal government, 1961-2011, Source: Statistics Canada|
Does this suggest that the Harper Government is justified when it claims responsibility for the boost in capital expenditures in recent years? It's hard to say for sure, but there is a good argument to be made that the Harper Government is partly responsible given this increase in federal transfers to provinces since the Tories took office.
Better yet, another explanation would be to propose that responsibility for the significant increase in public fixed investment in Canada in recent years rests instead with the fact that, between 2004 and 2011, the governments in power at the federal level were all minority governments, during which "concessions" were made to opposition parties on budget-related matters (i.e., in terms of additional program funding and increased federal transfers to provinces) as a way for these governments to remain in power.
This view appears to be supported by the facts. As you can see in graph 7, federal transfers to provinces increased significantly starting in 2005 following the election of Paul Martin's minority government. The increase in federal transfers to provinces is especially noteworthy given that it resulted in the first significant increase in federal transfers to provinces (viewed as a ratio of total federal expenditures) since the early 1970s.
|Graph 7: Ratio of transfers to provinces/federal expenditures, 1961-2011, Source: Statistics Canada|
Recall that, in 2005, the Martin Government required the support of the NDP to pass its budget, and that the "compromise" budget significantly increased the amount of funding for programs under provincial jurisdiction such as social housing and education. But regardless of the nature of these transfers, this additional source of income increased the amount of financial resources available to provinces, enabling them to undertake increased investments in infrastructure and other fixed capital projects.
Now, the above is a very rough sketch. A more detailed look at the data is necessary to get a better picture of the fiscal dynamics underlying these figures. Still, I think it's fair to say that the increase in public fixed capital investment in recent years is not solely the result of the stimulus measures put forth by the federal government during and after the last recession. Rather, as I wrote in my earlier post, it is more likely because of the combined efforts of the federal and provincial governments.
Courant, P., E. Gramlich, and D. Rubinfield. "The stimulative effects of intergovernmental grants: Or why money sticks where it hits", Fiscal Federalism and Grants-in-Aid, P. Mieskowski and W. Oakland (ed.), Washington: The Urban Institute, 1979.