"While there are some positive promises in this federal budget, it does not go nearly far enough to deliver on those things that Canadians most desperately need right now." — Larry Brown, NUPGE President
Ottawa (20 March 2019) — There are a lot of measures in the 2019 federal budget that can be described as nice gestures. Many of the measures announced acknowledge there are problems and provide people with a limited amount of help.
But most of the measures in the budget provide limited support to those facing the most difficulty, rather than solving their problems. For example, changes to the Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS) provide a bit more money for seniors who have to work. But there is nothing to address the larger problem of why people don’t have enough to live on after they retire. Some interest relief is provided for college or university students with large debts, but nothing is being done to address the underfunding of post-secondary education, which is the reason for those large debts.
Cautious optimism on pharmacare
Pharmacare is a good example of addressing a need but not providing solutions. While the need for a national pharmacare program is discussed, the budget only provides $35 million to set up a Canadian Drug Agency Transition Office that will in turn create a Canadian Drug Agency. The Canadian Drug Agency is supposed to negotiate drug prices to help drug plans get lower prices and make recommendations for which drugs could form the basis of a future national drug formulary.
There is also funding to help with high-cost drugs for rare diseases, but this will not be in place until after the next federal election.
"If all goes well, this will be the first step towards creating a national pharmacare program. However, those who remember how the federal Liberals promised a national child care program every election between 1993 and 2006 will be forgiven if they want to wait for more evidence that this will actually happen," said Brown, President of the National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE).
Progress for Indigenous peoples
Where the 2019 federal budget does appear to provide real progress is in meeting some long standing demands for fairness for Indigenous people in Canada. Services for First Nations children will receive an additional $1.2 billion over 3 years and services for Inuit children will receive an additional $220 million over 5 years. Other measures include additional funding for things like clean drinking water. "We're disappointed, though, that there was no action taken on serious problems like the underfunding of child welfare services for First Nations."
Modest support for skills training
Two new measures will provide some additional support for people wanting to retrain or upgrade their skills. The Canada Training Benefit is a refundable tax credit for training that will allow some people to get back up to 50 per cent of what they spend on training, with a lifetime maximum of $2,500. The EI Training Support Benefit will provide up to 4 weeks of income for people taking training — if they have over 600 hours.
Small improvement on tax fairness
"The government has made some small improvements to make the tax system fairer, such as limiting the use of the stock options loophole," said Brown. "However, these changes are only expected to save $719 million over 5 years. That’s a fraction of the $20 billion A YEAR that Canadians for Tax Fairness estimates could be saved by closing 5 significant loopholes."
Without the necessary funding, public services are at risk
“We have seen this happen far too often in the past. Governments underfund public services to the point that Canadians find their needs are not being met. Then, the very same government uses the lack of funding to justify privatizing the service," said Brown. "We see worrying indications of that in this budget, so we'll be watching closely."
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