A missed opportunity to support Canada’s most vulnerable
In the face of an unprecedented financial crisis the Conservative government of Canada tabled a budget this week. The document is full of half measures that would leave too many vulnerable Canadians behind.
Whether it was the lack of action on Employment Insurance reform, the lack of aggressive measures to fight poverty in these tough times, or the decision to tie up infrastructure and affordable housing investments in complex cost-sharing programs, the proposed budget represents a missed opportunity to protect the most vulnerable in tough times, to safeguard the jobs of today, and to help create the jobs of tomorrow.
This budget shows us again the misplaced priorities of Mr. Harper and his Mike Harris-era Finance Minister. There is a whopping $60 in corporate tax cuts for new every dollar for unemployed workers and not a single additional unemployed worker was made eligible for EI.
"We're quite concerned. The fact that the most vulnerable haven't been protected with appropriate changes to the E.I. program is very problematic for all cities. Secondly, there's real challenges in the infrastructure funding."
– David Miller, Mayor of Toronto
Harper’s infrastructure proposals seem designed to fail as they require co-payments by other levels of government and the private sector: many cash-strapped municipalities and communities will be left out in the cold. Instead of making it easier and quicker for the money to flow, the Conservatives stuck to the public-private partnership funding model that has already meant over 80 per cent of the money allocated for infrastructure in the last two budgets was actually never spent. In fact, the budget document confirms this pattern, reporting that $7.6 billion allocated from last year's budget was never spent.
"The lack of investments dedicated to public transit will make it a challenge for transit to meet the growing needs of Canadian communities."
– Michael Roschlau, Canadian Urban Transit Association
It’s a reminder we can't have confidence that the Conservative government will live up to its promises to help people -- though they certainly live up to their promises to cut spending and unproductively lower taxes. New Democrats have been listening and watching this government for three years and we know that Mr. Harper simply cannot be trusted.
"Keep in mind this is the same government that announced the Building Canada fund ... There's not a penny of that that has been issued."
– John Rodriguez, Mayor of Sudbury
This budget represented a rare opportunity to make investments to stimulate the economy for today and build towards the jobs we will need in the future. Instead, there is a gratuitous attack on the possibility for women to pursue through the courts the right to pay equity or equal pay.
It represents the failure to build desperately needed social housing for low-income Canadians or to create a single childcare space. The federal government is apparently satisfied with Canada's last place ranking on the international child care scale for developed nations.
"The 2009 federal budget ignores the child care needs of Canadians trying to hold onto jobs and retrain"
– Jody Dallaire, Child Care Advocacy Association of Canada
This budget was also a missed opportunity to maximize job creation through infrastructure initiatives: there is no Made-in-Canada procurement policy. For example, our military is purchasing $250 million worth of trucks from Texas while the same company is laying off hundreds in Chatham, Ontario.
In fact, the budget will not even stop a company like John Deere from receiving millions in corporate tax cuts and then turning around to shut down their 75-year old plant in Welland, Ontario.
In black and white in the budget document itself, the government casts doubt on its own approach. According to their own figures, for every dollar in corporate tax cuts, there is only a $0.20 improvement to the GDP. Personal tax cuts are slightly better, giving a $0.90 bosot to GDP. But the best investments are in infrastructure and measures to help low-income Canadians. For every dollar invested, GDP goes up $1.50.
"Today's federal budget leaves hundreds of thousands of vulnerable Canadians hanging on a very short rope and won't provide the immediate stimulus our economy needs."
– Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives
On the environment, Mr. Harper’s plan is cosmetic compared to the innovative plan for a green economy put forward by U.S. President Barack Obama. Investment in real environmental measures accounts for less than 1% of the total stimulus package and the Conservatives are proposing 4 times less spending per person for environmental measures than the U.S. stimulus plan. The new home renovation program isn't even tied to energy conservation measures or savings.
The biggest single “environmental” investment in Budget 2009 goes to the unproven technology of carbon capture and storage: this equates to a handout to big polluters. The Green Infrastructure Fund proposed has few details and still requires matching funds. Essentially, on the environment this government is saying, "Just trust us."
“If you can't find money in $40-billion stimulus for the energy source of the future, it's anti-environmental. Instead, they talk about carbon capture and storage. It's a single-minded focus on technologies that aren't green technologies."
– Dale Marshall, David Suzuki Foundation
The word “women” doesn’t appear once in Budget 2009. In addition to taking away a woman's right to go to the courts over pay equity, the budget didn't reverse any of the previous cuts to the Status of Woman Canada. Contrast this again with President Obama who just this week announced his government is strengthening women’s access to pay equity. The reality is that women still make 72 cents for every dollar a man earns and the Conservatives have proposed nothing to improve this.
New Democrats are very disappointed in Budget 2009's failure to address the economic crisis, preserve and create jobs and make sure that the most vulnerable in our society aren't left behind. This is a missed opportunity that didn't need to be. We had reached out across the aisle to other parties, put our differences aside and agreed to a series of policy measures that would have addressed this economic crisis with bold and progressive action.
Despite the failures of this budget, New Democrats remain committed to protecting the most vulnerable, swift economic recovery and brighter, more prosperous future for all Canadians. We will continue to hold the Harper government accountable. Once again, New Democrats are the real opposition.