Spring brings 2017 budget in with a whimper

"While the funding announcements sound impressive, most of the money isn’t supposed to be spent until well after the next election. It's also very convenient that the first announcements of what projects will get funding will happen right before the next federal election." — Larry Brown, NUPGE President

Ottawa (23 March 2017) — The Liberal government presented its 2017 budget, Building a Strong Middle-class, in the House of Commons on March 22. Long on words, short on action, the budget ignores opportunities to tackle the growing income inequality across Canada and, in fact, the many costs that will have direct impact on the pocketbooks of ordinary families. 

"If we looked only at the backend of this budget, we might be feeling a little more positive," said Larry Brown, President of the National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE). "While the funding announcements sound impressive, most of the money isn’t supposed to be spent until well after the next election. It's also very convenient that the first announcements of what projects will get funding will happen right before the next federal election."

More taxes on ordinary Canadians, Liberals ignore corporate taxes

Decisions contained in the budget are a direct contradiction to Liberal promises to take on income inequality and help the middle- and low-income families. 

The government had the opportunity to increase its revenue considerably by closing the stock option loophole for CEOs but decided to ignore it. Closing this loophole could bring in $725 million to be used for public services and projects that middle- and low-income Canadians rely on.

It seems as though the government felt it was more important to eliminate transit-user tax rebates and increase consumption taxes than to address the rising gap between the wealthy and the rest of us.

"These decisions won't help middle- and low-income Canadians," says Brown. "Living up to the promises to raise taxes on the wealthy or corporations, or to put teeth into the government's ability to confront tax havens would have raised much more revenue than these consumption taxes."

Canada's first gender-based budget misses the mark

"While increasing funding for child care spaces is a decent initiative, it still doesn't amount to a national child care strategy. To truly help women get back into the workforce, and to help families save thousands of dollars, the funding is needed each year, not in 9 years," says Brown.

Kate McInturff, of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) agrees saying in a press release,“While the 2017 budget includes some individual programs that will make a difference in women’s lives, women are still missing from the big picture.” 

According to a Toronto Star interview, Morna Ballantyne, executive director of the Child Care Advocacy Association of Canada said "that to grow the system to the size required, and to make high quality child care affordable for parents, annual federal funding must increase each year by a significant amount starting in 2018-2019. The 2017 federal budget increases funding by only $5 million between 2018-2019 and 2020-2021. There is no increase in 2021-2022.  Then, funding jumps to $725 million in 2022-2023 and slowly rises each year until the allocation reaches $870 million in 2026-2027."

The government has included an extension for maternity and parental leave, but it doesn't address one of the biggest problems facing women. 

"The budget ignores the important fact that the majority of women who work in part-time and precarious work don't even qualify for these benefits," says Brown. "Extending family leave for 18 months is helpful, but when most women can't access it, it's not going to get more women into the workforce on a wage that could raise a family," said Brown.

"And it doesn't even address the fact that there is no additional money for the extension, which means that parents must spread the benefits over an even longer period. It's like giving with one hand, and taking away with another," said Brown. 

Only modest federal infrastructure spending in the next few years

While the numbers sound impressive, most of the proposed federal infrastructure spending is not supposed to take place until well after the next federal election. For example, of the proposed $11.1 billion for housing and to fight homelessness, only 10 per cent will be spent before the next election.

"The length of time we will have to wait for the funding means there is a good chance we will never see it. Even if the federal Liberals are re-elected, there is a real possibility that they will decide to spend the money in other ways," continues Brown. 

"That’s what happened with planned spending on a national child care program. While the Liberals won several elections promising a national childcare program families are still waiting for one," he said. 

No assurance that funding for mental health and home care will be spent in public health system

The Liberals have included previously-announced money for mental health: $5 billion over 10 years for people 25 years and under and for home care that adds $6 billion over 10 years. 

"Home care funding covers home care, community care, palliative care and funding for informal care providers and the budget says nothing about ensuring this money is spent on public health care," says Brown. "Given the government's interest in privatization, the lack of assurances should concern us all."

Just transition and environment

One the biggest disappointments in this budget is how little it addresses the crisis of climate change and its economic impacts.

The budget allocates token investments to promote energy efficiency in the transportation and buildings sectors over 5 years. And it merely promises to invest in public transit at a future date (up to 11 years from now). The budget also does nothing to help low-income Canadians who will be the most burdened by higher costs as a result of the pan-Canadian carbon tax. While the budget eliminates the public transit tax credit, it does not offer any remedies, such as tax rebates or subsidies for transit or home heating.

"Once again, the Liberals are strong on words and short on action," says Brown. "This budget fails to address in any way the strategy of a Just Transition: there is nothing specific about preparing Canadian workers for a decarbonized economy, and there are no specifics about helping workers who will be displaced by the non-carbon economy, by providing for example social protections or specific training. There is also no mention of the promised National Task Force on Just Transition."

Skills training and good jobs

 The budget mentions programs that might indirectly help displaced workers: it talks about skills training, for example, and it proposes modest changes to employment insurance that provides some flexibility for unemployed workers to seek training. These are largely token measures, and they reveal a profound lack of understanding of the role government must play to transition workers to the green economy.

"We need more ambitious public policies that promote green job creation, expand renewable energy generation, support home and building retrofits, and dramatically increase the scale and quality of public transit," says Brown.


NUPGE

The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 370,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. ~ NUPGE