Federal budget: one step forward, one step back

The issues that weren’t addressed in the 2018 budget are ones the federal government doesn’t expect to get much attention or ones where people have become so discouraged that they are willing to settle for peanuts.

Ottawa (28 Feb. 2018) — For Canadians hoping for a budget that would help reduce inequality, the 2018 federal budget was mixed news. There were some positive measures like improvements to the Canada Child Benefit or 5 days of paid leave for victims of domestic violence, but on issues like pharmacare and tax fairness, progress is painfully slow. In areas like funding for public transit and green infrastructure, much of the promised funding is to be delayed until after the next election.

Talk, not action, on pharmacare

The lack of universal prescription drug coverage (pharmacare) for Canadians leaves a growing gap in our medicare system. Rising drug prices mean more and more Canadians are having to choose between paying for their medication or for necessities, like food.

A national pharmacare program would fix that problem. It would also help bring down drug costs with estimates of potential savings being in the billions..

But even though the need is clear, the federal government is refusing to bring in a national pharmacare program. Instead it announced an Advisory Council would be set up to hold a “national dialogue” on pharmacare. For people who remember the way the federal Liberals promised a national child care program for 5 consecutive elections, but kept finding ways to delay taking action until after the next election, this is very worrying.

Paid leave for survivors of domestic violence an important step forward

Plans to amend the Canada Labour Code to provide 5 days of paid leave for survivors of domestic violence are an important step forward. Manitoba and Ontario already provide paid leave for survivors of domestic violence and other provinces are considering it. In addition to providing much needed protection for workers under federal jurisdiction, changing the Canada Labour Code will hopefully encourage other provinces to act.

Delays in funding for transit and green infrastructure

Buried at the back of the budget was the news that funding for public transit and green infrastructure that had been announced in the 2016 and 2017 budgets is being delayed. Much of the funding is being pushed back to after the federal election. Given the long history of governments making generous promises in the lead-up to elections, and then canceling them immediately afterwards, the delays in funding make many people nervous.

Movement on pay equity

While pay equity has been shown to reduce the wage gap between women and men, getting pay equity continues to be a struggle. The announcement that the federal government is introducing pay equity legislation is a much-needed step forward.

No new funding for child care

While the budget acknowledged that the lack of affordable child care is a major barrier to women wanting to re-enter the workforce, there was no new funding for child care. As parents of young children know all too well, the funding announcement in the 2017 budget was nowhere close to what is needed. That announcement made only a minor dent in child care costs. Without more funding, finding and paying for child care will continue to be a struggle for most families with small children.

Tax loopholes for the wealthy largely untouched

While there were some small improvements, there was nothing in the budget about the biggest tax loopholes for the wealthy. These include the stock options and capital gains loopholes that allow those wealthy enough to get money from stock options and capital gains to pay only half the tax rate people pay for earned income.

As long as these loopholes remain in place, income inequality will continue to grow.

These loopholes and other tax breaks also undermine the governments stated goal of reducing inequality. Those benefiting from loopholes and tax breaks are the richest 10 per cent, and most of them are men. In contrast, if the government closed those loopholes, there would be more money to invest in public services, which would be of greater benefit to women.

Lesson from 2018 federal budget: speak out loudly

The issues that weren’t addressed in the 2018 budget are ones the federal government doesn’t expect to get much attention or ones where people have become so discouraged that they are willing to settle for peanuts. The lesson for people concerned about income inequality is clear: if we want action, we need to be willing to make a fuss.


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The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 390,000 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