Failure to Launch: Liberals’ Federal Budget

The 2019 federal budget was hyped by the Liberals as the one that would launch pharmacare, a vital and needed expansion of Canada’s universal Medicare system.

It was expected to open the election campaign, casting the Liberals as a real friend and supporter of Medicare, in contrast to the Tories, who are interested in privatization of healthcare, and the destruction of universal social programs.

But the promise of pharmacare in Finance Minister Morneau’s budget was a mere chimera, like the Ontario Liberal promise to create a provincial pension plan in 2014, which evaporated about as fast Trudeau’s electoral reform pledge in 2015.

Liberals lie – no doubt about it.  Just look at their contorted efforts to stop the prosecution of SNC-Lavalin for documented bribery and corruption in Libya, in Canada, and around the world.  This includes millions in illegal donations to Liberal and Tory coffers.

But Tories lie too – just look at the whoppers coming out of Andrew Scheer’s mouth about his party’s commitment to truth and justice, while Jason Kenny recruits candidates who are white nationalists in Alberta. Or Ontario Premier Ford, who attacks wages, public services, healthcare, education, the poor, youth and students, and more, while insisting his government is “For the People”.

The growing anger against the Big Business parties is palpable, after thirty years of austerity, privatization, capitalist globalization, and deep cuts to wages and living standards.

The federal budget was supposed to turn public opinion around for the Liberals, to rekindle hope for a better future – a better life.  To get the Liberals another majority in October, in short.

But this budget failed to deliver on almost every key issue for working people.

On the environment and climate change

The budget sticks with the government’s inadequate carbon tax, which makes consumers pay through increased prices and regressive consumption taxes, but does little to help achieve Canada’s goal of a 30% reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.

What should they have done?  The budget should have put hard caps on GHG emissions, staged to reduce down to zero within a few years, and to increase corporate taxes to pay for development of a publicly owned renewable energy sector. Massive investment in solar and wind power can replace jobs lost in the carbon industries.  A more progressive government will need to put Canada’s energy and natural resources under public ownership and democratic control, in order to help stop uncontrolled and harmful extraction and development, and to halt climate change.

On healthcare

The government has not restored any of the funding cuts to provincial transfer payments that are largely responsible for over-crowded hospitals, inadequate services, surgery wait lists, and the doctor shortage in many parts of the country.

What should they have done?  Restore and expand health care funding to the provinces, and enforce the Canada Health Act against privatization.  The budget should have introduced pharmacare, vision care, denticare, and long-term care, as necessary and overdue expansions of Medicare. They could have considered nationalizing the pharmaceutical industry, though that would have been a real stretch for this government.

On childcare

There is not a single word in the budget, though the Liberals have promised since 1993 to create a national public childcare system. The need is greater than ever, with children left in precarious private care arrangements that have led to several child deaths and injuries.

What should they have done?  Introduce a universally accessible, affordable, quality public childcare system with ECE qualified childcare workers earning fair wages and benefits.

On housing

The budget only offers an ineffectual baby-step of assistance to first time buyers trying to get into the over-heated private market.  To qualify for a 10% shared equity mortgage over 3 years, applicants must have a household income under $120,000 and buy a home with a top price of $500,000.  This will do nothing to address the housing crisis.

What should they have done?   Build one million units of affordable social housing for sale and rent, which would create hundreds of thousands of jobs in construction, manufacturing, and secondary industry.  Develop a national housing policy that makes rent controls and rent roll-backs obligatory across Canada.

On education

There is nothing, despite the fact that students, teaching staff, and parents are protesting across the country against provincial cuts to public and post-secondary education, back-breaking tuition fees and  student debt.

What should they have done?  Make post-secondary education free and publicly funded through increased transfer payments, and increased corporate taxes.  

On jobs and retraining

The budget boasts of low unemployment, with no mention of low wages,  no benefits, and precarious work for a million or more workers, plus the many who have aged-out of the job market at 45 or 50, and who are unemployed or under-employed – officially or not.  The budget offers a pitiful skills training program that puts the entire onus on workers to ‘earn’ one week of EI credits a year to be cashed in at 55% of a wage. Taking a week with a 45% pay cut for skills’ retraining won’t appeal to many workers, and it won’t be accessible to the unemployed and precariously employed who need it most.

What should they have done?  Invest in apprenticeships and  job creation, through publicly-funded and delivered infrastructure construction and renewal to include municipal, provincial and federal projects.   Build affordable housing and retrofits, expand development of renewable energy. Introduce universal social programs such as public childcare and pharmacare, fund free public and post-secondary education that includes academics as well as technological skills. Lay out a full employment policy by legislating a 32 hour work week with 40 hours pay.  Good jobs for all!

On transportation

The budget provides tax write-offs for businesses purchasing electric cars, and a $5,000 incentive for consumers making a purchase under $45,000.

What should they have done?  Shift away from private vehicles, invest in mass public rapid transit and inter-urban rail transit, to reduce carbon emissions, and improve transportation for all.

The government should have introduced plant closure legislation and stopped the GM closure in Oshawa with plant closure legislation, where small, affordable, sustainable electric cars could and should be manufactured for the domestic and export market, either by GM or by a crown corporation taking over operations.  This would guarantee sustainable auto production and thousands of manufacturing jobs, ending the blackmail of Canadian autoworkers by US governments and the Big Three US automakers.

On wages, EI and pensions

The budget offers nothing to minimum wage earners or workers seeking long overdue pay equity, or access to EI benefits.  The government continues to support Canada Post in denying pay equity to women postal workers. EI benefits are still beyond the reach of 50% of unemployed and part-time workers, who continue to make mandatory contributions.

The budget does expand CPP to include the self-employed who opt in, and increases the amount of the earnings exemption for seniors collecting the GIS, a means-tested top-up for the poorest seniors who are forced to work because their pensions are too small.  The budget also makes reference to the Sears scandal, with a proposal to make the courts protect pensions in the event of corporate bankruptcy or insolvency, and to ‘review’ executive compensation.

What should they have done?  The CPP should be substantially increased and the age dropped to  60 with full benefits, so that seniors can afford to stop working.  EI should be Increased to 90% of previous earnings, accessible to all contributors and to first-time job seekers, and raise the minimum wage to $20. A full employment policy, real job creation, and rising incomes and public revenues would pay the additional costs, and then some.  Bankruptcy legislation should put workers’ wages and pensions (deferred wages) at the top of the list of creditors, not the bottom.

On agriculture and farm incomes

The budget sets aside $3.9 billion to protect farm incomes in the poultry, egg and dairy sectors negatively affected by NAFTA 2.0, and by the attack on Canada’s supply management system with the opening of 10% of the market to U.S. and European producers.

What should they have done? The government should pull out of NAFTA 2.0, to protect farm incomes and Canada’s food security and supply management system. Pulling out would also benefit other sectors of the economy, and protect jobs, wages, social programs and public services, not to mention Canada’s sovereignty and independence on foreign policy, military vs civilian spending, energy policy, social policy, Medicare, etc.

On Indigenous rights and issues

The budget commits $4.7 billion over 5 years to eliminate the boil water advisories on all reserves, to increase funding for Indigenous children’s services, to establish a National Council for Reconciliation, and to fund the protection of Indigenous languages.  For the most part these were part of the undelivered agenda promised by the Liberals in 2015.

What has been delivered? Pipelines imposed on behalf of the oil and gas industry despite promises of a new nation to nation relationship between Indigenous Peoples and the federal government; the problem-plagued federal Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls; and  the legal battle against Cindy Blackstock and the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society over the government’s continuing refusal to provide equitable child welfare funding and benefits for Indigenous children.

What should they have done?  Cancel the pipelines, guarantee equitable funding for Indigenous’ children’s healthcare, education and welfare as a minimum, implemented retroactively to take into account the high costs of systemic discrimination and the historic under-funding of services to Indigenous children and youth.

The budget should have made massive investments in Indigenous housing, water and sewage systems, job creation, health, education, recreation, and youth mental health services. It should have addressed the health crisis at Grassy Narrows created by mercury pollution of the English-Wabigoon River system by the Reid Paper Co. in the 1970s.  

On the deficit and taxation

The budget could have reduced the deficit and increased social spending by increasing corporate taxes, introducing wealth taxes, and restoring progressivity in the tax system.  Instead they chose to continue on the road of corporate tax breaks, and high taxes and deficits on working people and the unemployed.

What should they have done?  The budget should have restored the capital tax, raised the capital gains tax to 100%, doubled the corporate tax rate and collected unpaid and deferred corporate taxes, introduced wealth and inheritance taxes on estates over $1.5 million, and prosecuted tax evaders to the full extent of the law.  This budget should also have reversed the sections in last year’s budget that legalized Deferred Prosecution Agreements and provided TNCs like SNC Lavalin with get out of jail free cards.

On military spending and NATO

This government continues to project a 73% increase in military spending over the next 8 years despite widespread public opposition to Canada’s involvement in US and NATO wars and aggression.   These expenditures will mean more and deeper cuts to healthcare, education, and social spending, increasing poverty and insecurity, and a culture of increasing intolerance and aggression.

What should they have done?  Slash military spending by 75% and invest in civilian spending, jobs , rising living standards, youth, and a foreign policy of peace and disarmament.  Get out of NATO and NORAD, cancel the Saudi arms deal, and end Canada’s involvement in US regime change operations in Latin America and elsewhere.

Overall, this is a budget for Big Business and the military

It aims to portray the Liberals as the natural governing party for corporate Canada in increasingly difficult times, with a recession on the near horizon and right wing populism on the rise. It aims to contrast Liberal “stability” with the Tories’ embrace of radical right-wing populism, and instability.  It’s a message being sent to both the corporations and working people as the October election looms larger.

But working people can’t afford four more years of falling wages and living standards. Women can’t wait for affordable childcare, better public services, and pay and employment equity.  Youth can’t wait for accessible post-secondary education, affordable housing, good jobs and a higher minimum wage. Farmers can’t wait to see if they’ll survive NAFTA 2.0 or go bankrupt.  Workers can’t wait to see if their jobs will still be there next month or next year. Indigenous people can’t wait for the government to deliver on its many commitments to truth and reconciliation.

Working people mustn’t wait while the NDP and Liberals drift further to the right, while the Tories drive politics to the far right, seizing on Liberal failures to beat a path to government next fall.

We need new governments and new priorities:  a people’s agenda and a People’s Coalition that will put people’s needs ahead of corporate greed.  

Curb corporate power. Strengthen democracy. Unite the labour and people’s movements, in the streets fighting for real, progressive change, and in the composition of Parliament.

It’s time to fight for and win a People’s Agenda for Canada.

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