Sabrina Maddeaux: Erin O’Toole’s missed opportunity to move voters to the right on the cost of living

Rather than adding more regulation, remove existing protectionist policies, tariffs and taxes that keep prices high

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On Twitter, a common joke says that Canada is just three telecommunications companies in a trench coat. Or is it three grocery conglomerates in a trench coat? Another said that Canada is three oil companies in trench coats. Another claims they are three big banks. You got the idea.

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When a country has so many oligopolies in trench coats that it’s hard to keep track, it’s usually a bad sign. Lack of competition inevitably means that consumers end up paying more and getting less, a problem that Canadians are familiar with. As Election Day approaches, the cost of living has now overtaken healthcare and the pandemic as the number one issue for voters.

In theory, this should be a giveaway for Erin O’Toole’s Tories. This is because – again, in theory – right-wing ideology supports free markets and open competition. Creating and selling Canadians a Conservative plan to lower the cost of living by dismantling cartels backed by overregulation and anti-competitive policy should be a snap. Too bad that’s not what’s in their platform.

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Instead, the Conservatives’ “detailed plan to lower prices” includes a month-long GST break that no one has asked for and that will have no long-term impact on affordability. They recognize that a handful of large telecommunications companies have too much power, but their plan to solve the problem lacks ambition.

O’Toole is committed to allowing foreign players to enter the market, but only from countries that accord the same courtesy to Canadian companies. Then there are a few lines about investing in communications facilities across Canada – although a CRTC ruling says ISPs should already do so. It is not clear why, instead of holding private companies to account, taxpayer dollars should double the effort. Better yet, open the doors to real competition.

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As for the grocery chains, many of which were embroiled in a bread pricing scandal not so long ago, and many of which then so easily stopped pandemic payments at the same time, O ‘ Toole plans to increase financial and criminal costs. penalties for price fixing. That may be fine, except that four years after the initial bread pricing scandal came to light, the Competition Bureau has yet to lay any charges. Little is known to the public about the investigation except that at least one grocer has been granted immunity. It doesn’t matter how severe the penalties are if no one is willing to prosecute the act.

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O’Toole also plans to ask the Competition Bureau to discuss their fees with the banks. Sorry if I can’t hold my breath while waiting for the results on this one.

A 2019 Fraser Institute study found that more than a third of the Canadian economy is immune to foreign competition. This includes telecommunications, maple syrup producers, airlines, dairy farmers, broadcasters, the financial services industry, and more. The average product category has one-third fewer major brands in Canada than in the United States. While geography, distance, and population size play a role, the report found that government regulation is the biggest hurdle.

If we are serious about reducing cell phone bills and the Internet, let more gamers in. If we want to reduce grocery bills, stop supporting the dairy and poultry industry with supply management. Want airlines to treat customers better? Force them to compete. Rather than adding more layers of regulation to an already over-regulated economy, remove existing protectionist policies, tariffs and taxes that keep prices high.

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The age-old rationale for our protectionist policies is risk avoidance, but for whom? The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Foreign Direct Investment Restriction Index ranks Canada behind Ukraine and Korea and only slightly ahead of Russia, Mexico and India. Most other Western countries are doing perfectly well, often better than us, as economies more open to foreign investment and competition.

As Canada’s richest people and businesses accumulate wealth at increasingly rapid rates and prices skyrocket for the average person, it is the upper echelons of society that benefit the most from protectionism. , while affordability, innovation and productivity suffer. Often it seems that what we protect the most is the status quo.

This campaign, the Conservatives often felt obliged to go to the left to secure the votes. When it comes to the cost of living, O’Toole has a unique chance to get voters moving. The problem should be a freebie, but despite the fruits at hand, it looks like Canada’s monopolies and soaring cost of living aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.

Join us on Wednesday September 15 for a live online debate. From Universal Social Programs and High Taxes to “Greening” the Economy: What Kind of Government Should Canadians Have in Their Lives – and How Much?

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