Jacinda Ardern continues to get it right. Since being elected prime minister of New Zealand nearly four years ago, this young politician has led progressive policies with an impressive combination of determination, compassion and politeness.
There are multiple examples of these features:
Ardern and her partner, Clarke Gayford, named their daughter Neve Te Aroha. Te-Aroha means love in the original Māori language.
After the massacre of 51 worshipers at the Christchurch mosque in 2019, Ardern took only weeks to finalize a law banning the possession of semi-automatic weapons in the country.
His leadership regarding the pandemic has been impeccable. Ardern managed to guard New Zealand’s COVID-19 death rate only 26 cases, or five deaths per one million people, compared to 625 deaths per one million in Canada and 1,868 deaths per one million in the UK.
When it comes to navigating New Zealand’s economy and its intersection with the climate crisis, Ardern’s actions are just as impressive, as he dares to challenge old truths.
Ardern was perhaps the first developed country head to question the prevailing working assumption among economists and policymakers that one of the government’s top priorities is to promote economic growth. When he introduced his first “welfare budget” in 2019, his aim was to maximize citizens’ sense of well-being, not economic activity.
“Economic growth coupled with deteriorating social outcomes has not worked. This is a failure, ” Ardern said. There’s nothing quite like the K-shaped recovery we’re currently going through to illustrate how valid this means. While latest data showing that the Canadian economy is growing again and the stock market is nearing all-time highs, the welfare of the bottom half of the population has slumped.
The Ardern government has not presented the 2021 budget, but in its budget Budget Policy Statement, published in February, it pledges to continue pursuing welfare goals, addressing key issues such as climate change, jobs, housing, child poverty and the state of Māori and the Pacific, its native communities.
But even before the budget was proposed, Ardern recently introduced three measures particularly relevant to Canada.
The first is his attempt to limit the ever-increasing real estate prices in the tiny country. Driven largely by foreign investment, housing prices in New Zealand have risen rapidly over the past decade, closing off first-time buyers, increasing rents and creating a country-wide housing crisis.
Have completely prohibits foreign ownership property in New Zealand in 2018, the government recently extended the mandate New Zealand’s central bank to tackle the housing crisis.
Canada has a similar boom – almost out of control – real estate market, and cooling it down is a priority. While Ottawa imposes a one percent vacant home tax for foreign owners in its 2021 budget, experts argue that this measure fails.
Hence, allowing Bank of Canada Governor Tiff Macklem, who recently said there is Signs of “worrying” in the Canadian housing market, using the central bank’s monetary policy to end the real estate party might be a good idea.
The second step is Ardern’s move last month to raise the minimum wage to $ 20 (NZ) per hour, the equivalent of $ 18 (Cdn.). Since 2017, the minimum wage in New Zealand has increased by $ 4.25 (NZ) or 27 percent.
Canadians can benefit from a similar pursuit. A Statistics Canada The report shows that between 1998 and 2019, the proportion of workers earning the minimum wage nearly doubled from 5.2 percent to 9.2 percent. Minimum wage workers are becoming increasingly concentrated in large enterprises and less likely to receive non-wage benefits, such as pension plans, additional medical benefits or paid sick leave, according to the report.
Meanwhile, the Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland announced the government’s intention to introduce legislation that would set the federal minimum wage at $ 15 per hour, that is the minimum wage in many provinces is still far behind. In New Brunswick, for example, $ 11.75 per hour; in Saskatchewan $ 11.45; and in Quebec, a rate of $ 13.10 is scheduled to increase to $ 13.50 in May.
Finally, Ardern’s approach to the climate crisis is very inspiring. At an absolute level, New Zealand, with a small population of five million people, is negligible in terms of greenhouse emissions. But instead of doing the minimum necessary and leaving the stage to the big players, Ardern is determined to become a leader and, in many cases, set the standard for how countries should respond to the climate crisis.
New Zealand passed a zero emissions law, with commitments to achieve neutrality in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Meanwhile some critics argues that the country is still slow to curb emissions, Ardern declare a “climate emergency” in December, and pledged that its public sector would be carbon neutral by 2025.
Another bold step requires state banks to reveal the impact of their investments on climate change. New Zealand was the first country in the world to introduce a law intended to make the financial sector environmental record fully transparent. The law will make climate reporting mandatory for banks, insurance companies and investment companies, said Secretary of Commerce David Clark.
Canadian banks are some of the largest lenders to the oil and gas industry and their net-zero 2050 commitment is not clear. Mandating climate reporting can put banks on the right track.
Whether recovering from a pandemic, overcoming a housing bubble, battling the climate crisis, or supporting marginalized populations, Jacinda Ardern is a leader and an inspiration.
Canada and New Zealand face similar challenges. Hopefully, Ardern’s unconventional and courageous thinking will find its way to Ottawa. It certainly can use some of the courage, bold and visionary leadership.