The 2019 Federal budget that came down March 19 is reflective of the Prime Minister, looks good on the outside but is mushy on the inside. There are improvements that have garnered some applause but considering what is needed on issues like climate change, affordable housing and universal childcare it falls way short of the mark.
This is an election budget, as the federal election is called for October 21st of this year. The budget is rather modest for an election budget but this could be part of the Liberal’s strategy. On the campaign trail they will promise a slew of progressive programs but once elected many of these promises will be dropped by the wayside and they will carry on as usual protecting and promoting their corporate allies. If they were serious about some of the programs they will packaging as election promises, they would include them in this budget. As they say ‘campaign from the left, govern from the right.’
One example of a possible election promise is a national pharmacare program. The Canadian Labour Congress (CLC), along with a number of other groups, has been campaigning for a national program for the past few years. Canada is the one nation with a universal public healthcare system that does not include a national drug prescription plan. This means many people cannot afford their prescriptions, almost one in four Canadians have to choose between their needed medicine and other luxuries of life like food.
To be fair the Government did create something called the Canadian Drug Agency Transition Office, and later in June the Hoskins commission, which is looking into the models and practices of other countries’ national drug programs, is to make their recommendations. So the question is whether it will be a fill in the gaps of existing drug plans model or whether it will be a public universal program integrated into Medicare. Hassan Yussuff, president of the CLC stated “Canada’s unions continue to feel cautiously optimistic that a universal pharmacare program is on the horizon. Experts all agree that Canada’s patchwork approach to prescription drug coverage needs to be streamlined, but drug costs won’t come down unless there is one plan and one buyer.”
You may be wondering why a universal prescription drug program is so high on the labour movement’s radar. Unions have advocated for many programs that benefit all Canadians, not just union members, things like medicare, pensions, unemployment benefits, among many other issues. A practical reason is that unions would not have to bargain for drug coverage in their collective agreements. If you look south of the border the cause of many strikes is either the union trying to improve health care plans or employers trying to either eliminate those plans or make individual workers pay more. All because the Americans do not have a national, public and universal health care plan.
An issue more directly related to trade unions is workplace training and apprenticeships. There is a small 250 dollar tax credit that individuals have to match. As David MacDonald a senior economist with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives writes “Employers often bemoan the “skills mismatch” that they say results in their not being able to find the employees they need. This is supposed to be the workers’ fault, even though recent generations of Canadians are the most educated in the industrialized world (and have the student debt to show for it)” He went on that “ Canadian employers spend far less on training than employers elsewhere. Forcing workers with high student debt to spend even more on training is just not fair. The government could have nationalized the Quebec approach of requiring employers who don’t spend enough on training to pay into a training fund.” The Quebec law requires corporations with a payroll over $1,000,000 to spend 1% of their payroll into training programs.
One of the big holes in the Liberal’s legislative regime is no action around a national childcare policy. Even though back on the campaign trail in 2015 Trudeau declared ‘his government would develop a child care framework that meets the need of Canadian families, wherever they live’ there has been little or no action, leaving it up to individual provinces like BC. The lack of any action in this budget prompted the Canadian Women’s Foundation to state “ Canada desperately needs a national strategy on affordable, accessible quality childcare. We know that over 770,000 children in Canada live in ‘childcare deserts’. We also know this lack of childcare has real world consequences. Childcare is a key pillar in women’s economic independence. We know that women may be reluctant to leave an abusive partner if they will be financially unstable. And we know that one in three single mothers are raising their children in poverty. When the budget takes into account that childcare is not an isolated issue, many barriers to gender equality will be removed”.
The 2019 budget has some good measures in it. The Guaranteed Income Supplement will increase the income of working seniors and some money is going both to municipal and First Nation governments to address infrastructure development. While no money is this budget was directed to workers around the issue of’ just transition’ a fund was set up to assist rural communities, that depend on coal generated electrical plants slated to be shut down, to diversify their financial base.
Considering the Libs had an extra six billion dollars in revenue this year to work with, and the debt to GNP ratio is falling, there was an opportunity to implement some real solutions now, instead of just tinkering or saving them for campaign promises down the road. But there has to be a political will to implement such major national programs like pharmacare and childcare, let alone major problems like housing and climate change, a will this government does not have. Now if you want to buy a pipeline that is a different story.