Ottawa – March 21 – The federal budget tabled today by Finance Minister Jim Flaherty illustrates that the Harper Conservatives are bereft of new ideas as they continue to force austerity on Canadians.
"Rather than obsessing over balancing the budget by the 2015 election campaign, Stephen Harper and Mr. Flaherty should be concerned with the issues that affect working Canadians," says UFCW Canada National President Wayne Hanley. “People are worried about the sluggish economy, youth unemployment, household debt, inadequate employment insurance, and insufficient funding for the Canada Pension Plan. These are the areas that the government needs to invest in to build a fair and prosperous country."
Evidence continues to mount that austerity budgets are not working, with experts such as former World Bank chief economist Joseph Stiglitz criticizing their effectiveness. Yet the Harper Government refuses to accept that their "Economic Action Plan" – centred around corporate tax cuts and government cutbacks – is not working.
Even Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney has acknowledged that corporate tax cuts do not encourage companies to invest in workers and equipment. Last year he called on Canadian corporations to stop hoarding the $575 billion that they are currently sitting on and use that money to create jobs and rebuild the economy.
"The Finance Minister should provide a structure for corporations to put excess profits to work or recover that money through a higher corporate tax rate and invest the revenue in programs that benefit Canadians. Taxpayers should not be asked to subsidize profitable corporations," says Brother Hanley.
While the government's investment in infrastructure may be viewed as good news, the continued cutbacks in government spending will affect valuable services and lead to further job losses.
Instead of continuing with the cuts to Employment Insurance (EI) that were introduced in last year's budget, the government should provide easier access to insurance for people who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own and who need EI to avoid falling through the cracks.
The government should also stop slashing the wages of hard working Canadians by requiring workers to accept lower wages in jobs that do not fit their skills. Its changes to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program – which allow employers to pay migrant workers 15 percent less than the prevailing wage – forces a downward spiral on wages for Canadian workers.
"This budget does not address the economic problems of our country,” says President Hanley. "The Harper Conservatives have shown that they are willing to put our economy and the livelihoods of taxpayers at risk in order to balance the budget, and their austerity measures have created a more unequal society with hard working Canadians increasingly falling behind."