Canadian heroes were a little harder to come by in 2012 thanks in big part to the National Hockey League strike. Not many little boys or girls point to men in suits shuffling into a conference room and say, “I want to be just like them.”
At the risk of offending sports fans - it is just a game.
There were plenty of heroes in the day-to-day lives of regular Canadians, where it really counts. We may be taking our lumps in terms of slow economic growth, but it’s safe to say we have averted the worst of the global economic meltdown that has ravaged households just like ours around the world.
Canada has emerged as a beacon of stability thanks to a national sense of prudence and practicality that has manifested itself in some of the leaders we choose.
Our financial heroes may even be closer to home – a buddy at work, a parent or stern uncle, an investment advisor, someone in the media, or a business leader.
Here are a few to consider:
In the early 1990s Canada had one of the highest annual deficits in the developed world as a result of reckless spending by previous Conservative and Liberal governments. To make matters worse Standard & Poor’s had lowered the country’s debt rating, boosting borrowing costs for everyone to service our ballooning debt.
The finance minister at the time, Paul Martin, imposed drastic and unpopular spending cuts and eventually introduced a balanced budget by 1998.
While other countries continued to pile on debt Canada held its ground on balancing budgets. Ten years later Canadian households have been spared the crippling austerity measures being imposed in Europe and heading for the United States.
Our banks are also the envy of the world thanks in part to the government ban under Paul Martin on mergers in the late 1990s. The International Monetary Fund concedes the ban helped prevent Canada’s big banks from becoming over-leveraged and joining the ranks of failed global investment banks.
Other credits for Paul Martin include getting the ball rolling on firming up the Canada Pension Plan, which experts say is now on firm ground for at least the next 70 years.
Although Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney was never elected by the people, his mark on central bank policy has helped cushion the blow for many Canadian households.
He has maintained a delicate balance, reigning in growth in good times by keeping the benchmark interest rate above average and stimulating growth with low rates when times are bad.
As a result, Canada never had the highs of other developed countries but Canadian households – even those over burdened with debt – can be comforted by low mortgage and other borrowing rates for at least a year.
Mark Carney also set the trend for all central bankers by moving to de-mystify central bank policy and reveal the inner workings of the Bank of Canada for all Canadians to understand.
No individual can be credited with the state of the Canadian economy but Finance Minister Jim Flaherty should be given kudos for reversing Canada’s surplus to help stimulate the economy in the form of much-needed infrastructure spending.
From highways to bridges to community arenas, those projects are helping to keep Canadians employed and away from public assistance.
History has yet to judge but Jim Flaherty is addressing some tough decisions on extending eligibility for Old Age Security and boosting payments for the Canada and Quebec Pension Plans in order to maintain their long term viability.