Toronto – February 11, 2014 – At a time when young Canadians are struggling to find good paying jobs, more seniors are living in poverty, and while high unemployment persists, especially for First Nations, Harper’s Conservatives introduced a budget more concerned with the continued gutting of services in order to squeeze enough money out of the system to introduce a new round of tax cuts to bolster their re-election campaign in 2015.
Instead of addressing serious problems like a stalling job market, record levels of household debt, inadequate employment insurance benefits and lack of retirement security, the Conservatives are fixated on austerity measures in their drive to a balanced budget regardless of who may suffer. Even the International Monetary Fund had recommended postponing the drive to a balanced budget so as to invest in job creation.
While the recent announcement of improved funding for Aboriginal education is a positive start, there is little else to get excited about in this budget. It didn’t have to be this way. There is so much more this government could have done to help Canadians face today’s challenges.
The budget could have helped the most vulnerable unemployed workers by increasing funding for Labour Market Agreements (LMAs) with the provinces and territories. The EI surplus could have been used to fund much needed training of EI eligible workers. By working with the provinces and territories, the budget could have addressed the desperate need for more child care spaces to ensure all families find affordable high-quality early learning and care spaces.
The budget could have signalled a return to a robust permanent immigration system and introduced real measures to prevent exploitation of migrant workers under the Temporary Foreign Worker Program.
Instead of re-announcing funding for infrastructure that went unspent from their last budget, the government should have launched, in partnership with the provinces and cities, a major investment in public infrastructure with increased support for basic municipal and First Nations infrastructure, mass transit and passenger rail, affordable housing, energy conservation through building retrofits, and renewable energy projects. Such investment would create thousands of jobs and spur on economic activity.
The budget should have scrapped measures introduced in the 2012 budget that prevented more unemployed workers from accessing or keeping EI benefits while between jobs; and instead should have introduced measures to improve access to EI and increase benefit levels.
The budget should have committed to enhancing the Canada Pension Plan, to increasing the Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS) and reversing the 2012 budgets increase in eligibility to Old Age Security (OAS) and GIS from 67-years-of-age back to 65.
Although this budget appears to do very little but focus on the drive to a balanced budget, experience tells us the real details are still to come in the next massive omnibus budget implementation bill. If history repeats itself, the omnibus bill will be chock full of surprises hidden deep within its hundreds of pages.
Harper’s government had a choice in this budget. They could continue to play cynical political games to balance the budget in time for the 2015 election so they could once again throw around tax cuts.
Or they could have invested in the expansion of a more sustainable economy, productivity, training, and helping to create good jobs while ensuring Canadian workers would have income security today and in the future.
As usual, Harper chose political games over the needs of Canadians.