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Christopher Hume: When did airports become so unbearable?

Commentary
Delta passengers stand in line as the carrier slogged through day two of its recovery from a global computer outage Tuesday, Aug. 9, 2016, in Salt Lake City. (Rick Bowmer/AP Photo)

It’s unlikely French philosopher and playwright Jean-Paul Sartre had airports in mind when he declared that, “Hell is other people.” But then again, he might have. Certainly, he could have. No question the French existentialist’s famous words are borne out by the experience of the sullen hordes tramping through airports around the world or here in Canada; especially here in Canada, as we enter the season of summer travel.

Indeed, other than the torture of air travel itself, airports – the beginning and end of every trip – seem designed to inflict maximum discomfort and dislocation for the traveller. It’s not just the hurry-up-and-wait checking-in process or the indignity of the largely performative security protocols.  It’s not just the plastic furniture, or the unabashed retail rip-offs on offer at every turn. What lies at the heart of the horrid airport experience is its near total disconnection from reality. Neither here nor there, airports are all the same but different. They are everywhere, but nowhere.

Architects can’t be blamed entirely for the bloated non-places that modern airports have become, but they bear a major responsibility  for the creation of these most liminal of spaces. Their job is to help create an environment based on a series of our  assumptions about human behaviour; about who we are and what travellers  want.

But are the architects  right? Given the generally poor ratings users give airports, it seems not.

The most tedious part of a day at the airport is getting through security. This is the great leveller, where we strip down to go through a hazing process that clears us for entry into the inner sanctum. Though largely ineffective and often called “security theatre” , many experts try to convince us  that being patted down, prodded and X-rayed actually prevents terrorism. The irony of airport security is that it — not terrorist attacks — is the greater test of the freedoms we take for granted in countries like Canada.

At the airport, we are guilty until proven innocent.

The Fraser Institute: Prime Minister Trudeau’s redistribution economics doesn’t add up

Commentary
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, centre, sits with Mary NG, right, Minister of International Trade, Export Promotion, Small Business; Economic Development and Chrystia Freeland, Canada's Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance as they attend the NAFTA Advisory Council Meeting in Toronto, Thursday, March 16, 2023.

Prime Minister Trudeau’s vision for a more prosperous Canada relies on a much larger role for the federal government, with more spending, regulation, borrowing and higher taxes. By moving existing money around—both from higher-income workers to average Canadians and from the future to the present through borrowing—he believes the Canadian economy will be stronger and living standards will rise. But after nearly a decade of governing, the evidence is clear: the prime minister’s redistribution economics doesn’t work and has actually reduced living standards in Canada.

Let’s first understand the magnitude of the changes made by the Trudeau government. Federal spending (excluding interest costs on debt) has risen from $256.2 billion in the last year of the Harper government to an estimated $483.6 billion this year, an increase of 88.7 percent.

Even excluding COVID-related spending, from 2018 to 2022, the Trudeau government has recorded the five highest years of federal spending (on a per-person basis, after adjusting for inflation) in the history of the country, far surpassing spending during both world wars and the Great Recession.

Under Trudeau, the federal government has introduced several new programs (including dental care, daycare and pharmacare), and expanded several existing programs such as the cash transfer to families with children under 18 and corporate welfare.

Redistributing existing income has been a clear policy goal of the Trudeau government. From 2015 to 2022, average government transfers to families with children have increased from $12,685 to $15,750 (inflation-adjusted), an increase of 24.2 percent. Yet among these same families, employment income only increased 8 percent during the same period, meaning government transfers grew more than three times faster than their employment income. And as a share of household income, government transfers have increased from an average of 8 percent between 1995 and 2007, when employment income was growing much faster, to 10.3 percent in 2022.

The Trudeau government has financed this explosion in federal spending by borrowing, which is simply taxation deferred to the future, and tax increases.

Specifically, the government increased personal income taxes on professionals, entrepreneurs and successful business owners. It also increased taxes on businesses, which is an indirect and less transparent way of increasing taxes on average people, since businesses don’t actually pay taxes, only people pay taxes. Higher business taxes mean less investment and thus lower wage growth for workers, lower payments to the business owners, and/or higher prices for consumers buying goods and services.

 

The Trudeau government has also opaquely increased taxes on average Canadians. While it lowered the second personal income tax rate, it simultaneously eliminated several tax credits. As a result, 86 percent of middle-income families experienced an increase in their personal income taxes, as did 75 percent of families with children in the bottom 20 percent of income-earners.

But again, the government financed much of its new spending by borrowing, which means future tax increases. Consider that total federal debt stood at a little over $1.0 trillion when the Trudeau government took office in late 2015. By the government’s own estimates, total federal debt will reach almost $2.1 trillion next year.

Higher debt means higher interest costs, which divert money away from programs such as health-care or badly needed tax relief. From 2015-16 (when Trudeau was first elected) to this year, federal debt interest costs have increased from $21.8 billion to an expected $54.1 billion. For context, this year, the federal government expects to raise $54.1 billion from the GST, which means that every cent raised from the national sales tax will go to pay interest costs on the federal debt.

By focusing on moving around existing income (i.e. redistribution) rather than promoting income growth through investment and entrepreneurship, the Trudeau government has helped produce an outright economic growth crisis. Canada’s current decline in per-person GDP, a broad measure of living standards, is one of the longest and deepest declines of the last 40 years. Moreover, as of the end of 2023, the latest year of available data, the decline in living standards had not stopped, so there’s a chance this could be the worst fall in living standards since at least the early 1980s.

According to our 2023 study, growth in per-person GDP from 2013 to 2022 was at its lowest rate since the Great Depression. Indeed, Canada’s post-COVID recovery was the fifth weakest in the industrialized world. Prospects for the future are no better. A recent study by the OECD estimated that Canada would have the slowest growth in living standards among 32 high-income countries for the foreseeable future.

Simply put, the Trudeau government’s policies, which focused on government-led prosperity and moving income around instead of growing incomes, has led to a decline in living standards and economic malaise. Canadians are struggling when we should be leading the world in growth and prosperity. The only way to reverse our economic decline is to embrace a markedly different approach to policy, focused on economic growth through entrepreneurship, investment and innovation.