Tom Mulcair: “Stephen Harper is the only prime minister in Canadian history who, when asked about the recession during his mandate, gets to say, ‘Which one?’”
By: Dana Wagner on
Tom Mulcair, NDP Leader and candidate for Outremont, in the leaders debate on August 6, 2015
Harper is not the first prime minister to govern over a period with two recessions. Several others did too. Since 1926, there were more prime ministers who held power for over five years who saw at least two recessions than those who did not.FactsCan Score: False
Questions of what, when, why and how many have populated recession talk throughout the long election campaign. The Canadian economy saw two quarters of consecutive decline from January to June of this year, and that seemed to set the course of election debates when the writ dropped in the summer.
In the first leaders debate of the campaign, hosted by Maclean’s on August 6, Tom Mulcair made a claim about the government’s unique record on recessions. He said, “Stephen Harper is the only prime minister in Canadian history who, when asked about the recession during his mandate, gets to say, ‘Which one?’”
The claim implies no previous Canadian prime minister governed over a period containing more than one recession.
This is not true.
In a 2012 report, the C. D. Howe Institute listed Canadian recessions since 1926. The think tank defined recessions as “a pronounced, pervasive, and persistent decline in aggregate economic activity.” Similar to other widely-used definitions, the authors explained the recession label typically follows “a net contraction, or at least stagnation in the economy over a six month period.”
This check is not about prime ministerial control or responsibility for economic performance – that’s an unsettled question and is likely a matter of degree, and different for each recession. This check is only about who governed over them.
Using the C. D. Howe Institute list and looking back just to 1926, here’s a list of prime ministers and their recessions:
William Lyon Mackenzie King, in office from December 1921 to August 1930, and October 1935 to November 1948
- April 1929 to February 1933
- November 1937 to June 1938
- August 1947 to March 1948
Louis St. Laurent, in office from November 1948 to June 1957
- April 1951 to December 1951
- July 1953 to July 1954
- March 1957 to January 1958*
*Out of office four months into this recession
John Diefenbaker, in office from June 1957 to April 1963
- March 1957 to January 1958
- March 1960 to March 1961
Pierre Trudeau, in office from April 1968 to June 1979, and March 1980 to June 1984
- December 1974 to March 1975
- January 1980 to June 1980*
- June 1981 to October 1982
*In office for three months of this recession
Stephen Harper, in office from February 2006 to present
- October 2008 to May 2009
- January 2015 to June 2015*
* This recession hit after the C. D. Howe Institute published its report.
A caveat for Harper’s second recession: There is not yet consensus that this period was, in fact, a recession. Although there were two consecutive quarters of decline – which meets a popular definition of a recession – some have pointed out the period doesn’t hold other recession indicators.
Douglas Porter, chief economist for the Bank of Montreal, told the Globe and Mail, “if this period is ultimately deemed to be a recession, it will be of the mildest variety and one of the strangest recessions ever.” He explained, “consumer spending was up in both quarters and so too was employment, far from a widespread softening in the economy.”
But even counting two recessions during Harper’s mandate, he is not the first multiple-recession prime minister. At least four other prime ministers share the record, and some governed over three recessions.
In fact, since 1926, only Brian Mulroney and Jean Chrétien managed to govern for a period longer than five years and not see two recessions (Mulroney saw one, Chrétien saw zero).
Mulcair’s claim is false.