OTTAWA—The Liberal government is championing its values and—its spending—in a federal budget that reads like a campaign-friendly road map designed to ensure that no woman, scientist, or national wildlife area gets left behind.
“It is a plan that puts people first—that invests in Canadians and in the things that matter most to them,” Morneau told the House of Commons on Feb. 27 after he tabled the 2018 federal budget.
The document, which details a $18.1-billion deficit, including a $3-billion adjustment for risk, also shows the Liberals are doubling down on the idea that spending money is good for the long-term future of Canadians—and that includes borrowed money, even when they had room to avoid it.
Once again, despite Prime Minister Justin Trudeau having promised to end deficit spending by 2019, there is no timeline for getting back to black.
“We’ve shown to Canadians that making investments in them, making investments to allow more Canadians to be working, has exactly the positive impact that we want it to have,” Morneau told a news conference when pressed on that point.
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer accused Trudeau of spending money on his pet projects while increasing the debt of future generations.
“He gives with one hand. He takes more with the other,” Scheer said.
Still, Morneau argued that Canadians voted for the Liberal approach, and against Conservative cuts, in the 2015 election and it appears the Liberals are counting on them to do it again in 2019.
It is an argument the Liberals make most strongly when devoting dollars to things close to their progressive hearts.
The budget, as expected, puts a large emphasis on gender equality, which the government has decided to make a major theme of its G7 presidency as it prepares to host the gathering world leaders at a resort in La Malbaie, Que., in June.
Morneau focused on efforts to increase the participation of women in the workforce as part of a longer-term plan to grow the economy and prepare for the consequences of an aging population.
“If half of our population is held back, we’re just not going to be as successful,” he said before the budget was tabled.
One big part of that plan is to introduce up to five weeks of leave—with employment insurance benefits that come with a starting cost of $1.2 billion over five years—for new fathers, as a way to help break the pattern of mothers automatically taking on the greater share of child-rearing responsibilities, and losing earning power as a result.
There are also measures to boost the number of women entrepreneurs, as well as those in the male-dominated skilled trades, and a promise—without any details on what is expected to be a hefty price tag—to implement proactive pay equity legislation.
The #MeToo movement, which has arrived on Parliament Hill in recent weeks, also gets a timely mention, with the budget promising $34.9 million over five years plus $7.4 million thereafter, to support its proposed legislation to crack down on harassment in federally regulated workplaces.
This budget, for the first time in Canadian history, also went through a full gender-based analysis, which involved thinking about how every single measure would impact men and women in different ways, while taking other factors such as age, ethnicity, income, and disability into account.
There was no additional money for child care this year however, although the Liberals feel they dealt with that in the previous budget: $7.5 billion over 11 years for bilateral deals with the provinces and territories, which disappointed many stakeholders calling for a universal program.
That overarching theme of gender equality aside, the budget is also a smattering of smaller measures.
The long, scattershot list near the back of the 367-page document includes things like expanding the tax credit for service dogs to help people with post-traumatic stress disorder and a national hotline to crack down on human trafficking.
Other themes include major investments in science, the environment, and reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples, which are all areas Trudeau’s government sees as part of its progressive vision for the country and the world.
The budget also announced the creation of an advisory council to begin exploring options for a national pharmacare plan. That will be one way for Trudeau to try to outflank NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, who has made bringing Canadians universal access to affordable prescription drugs a top priority.
Singh, who dismissed the Liberal vision for pharmacare as incomplete, said he welcomed the company, and the challenge.
“Please, take our idea,” he said.
From The Canadian Press