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The Missed Opportunities of Budget 2023
While there are some promising initiatives outlined in this year's federal budget, it's important to also look at what's absent.
There’s definitely some good to come out of this year’s federal budget, which was unveiled by Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland on March 28, as I’ve written about in this space already.
For starters, there’s billions in subsidies to encourage companies to invest in green energy and electricity generation — a clear response to the U.S. Inflation Reduction Act.
To get the full advantage of these subsidies companies will have to pay union-level wages, but it remains to be seen what that will look like in practice. There’s also a nod to upcoming anti-scab legislation, which is a promising development.
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The government is finally creating a dental care program for low-income people, instead of just mailing out cheques like it did last year, and expanding its eligibility to include seniors, teenagers and people with disabilities who meet the sub-$90,000 income threshold. This was a key promise the Liberals made to the NDP in exchange for propping up their minority government.
That said, there’s a troubling 3% across-the-board cut to the federal budget coming over the next four years, which I suspect will get more attention as its impact becomes clearer.
Take transit, for instance:
The clean transportation program manager for Environmental Defence Canada, Nate Wallace, warned that a lack of funding in emissions-reducing public transit will lead to a “death spiral” of service cuts and fare increases that will “push people into their cars.” Wallace expressed hope that the government’s coming update on permanent transit funding, expected later this year, will address funding shortfalls, but noted that these investments are needed immediately.
Or meaningful measures to address the affordability of consumer goods:
To address rising inflation, the budget includes a onetime “grocery rebate” on the federal Goods and Services Tax, which will provide families with two children up to $467, seniors $225, and single people $234 to help them pay for groceries. This year’s average monthly grocery bill, for a family of four, is expected to be $1,357. The NDP has inexplicably touted this meager spending — which Freeland described as “narrowly focused and fiscally responsible” — as a win for affordability.
Pharmacare, another important Liberal concession for the NDP’s support, remains absent from the budget. NDP leader Jagmeet Singh acknowledges that this won’t come to fruition before the expiration of their deal, but continues to prop up the Liberal government nonetheless. Evidently, Singh believes that there is merit in focusing on the affordability, climate, and dental-care half measures, in spite of the fact that the Liberals were likely to implement these items anyways. It is likely that the Liberals will outline a framework for implementing a pharmacare system — just in time for the next election. This will maintain the party’s perennial promise of pharmacare, a pledge they’ve been making for the past quarter century.
The Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness (CAEH) lambasted the budget for not including any measures to ease the housing affordability crisis. “It’s clear that the federal government does not see the scale and urgency of these crises, and have offered no solutions,” said CAEH president and CEO Tim Richter. “For thousands of Canadians who will not be able to pay their rent this week, they will find no relief or meaningful support in this budget. Too many others will be projected unnecessarily into the life-threatening experience of homelessness.”
The only housing commitment in the budget is a $4 billion investment in an Urban, Rural and Northern Indigenous Housing Strategy. While the measure is very much needed to address the disproportionate number of homeless indigenous people, it is insufficient. It’s also being delivered by the Canada Housing and Mortgage Company, rather than National Indigenous Collaborative Housing Inc. This decision calls to mind antecedent colonial impositions that have always been disguised as charity.
These represent clear missed opportunities for the government to better the lives of working class Canadians, leaving them ripe for picking by the populist right.
Read the full Jacobin piece here.
More than 150K federal workers vote for strike action
Workers at the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) and federal Treasury Board are now in a legal strike position.
The Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) represents 35,000 CRA employees and 120,000 Treasury Board workers. Negotiations for both sets of workers have been underway since 2021. PSAC is seeking a contract that covers the past three years, meaning a new one would be in negotiation in the near future.
The union is scheduled to provide an update on bargaining today.
Buried at the bottom of a CTV News piece focusing on the potential impact of the strike on government operations is what PSAC is asking for.
For CRA workers, the union is looking for a 4.5% raise retroactive to 2021, an 8% raise retroactive to 2022 and another 8% for this year. The workers are also seeking provisions regarding work-life balance, job security, enhanced compensation if they have to do evening, weekend and shift work, and the option to continue working remotely.
Treasury Board workers are seeking a 13.5% raise for 2021 to 2023, more job security, protections for remote work, work-life balance provisions, addressing systemic racism in the workplace, and restrictions on contracting out work and privatization.
The government has offered Treasury Board workers a 2.06% raise per year. In February, the Federal Public Sector Labour Relations and Employment Board suggested a 9% raise over three years.
Read the full story here.
I’ve reached out to PSAC to talk to some workers in their bargaining units to get a better sense of how their demands reflect workplace conditions. Hopefully that materializes.
In other news …
Less than a year after it froze funding to Hockey Canada in the wake of a sexual assault coverup scandal, the Canadian government announced it will restore its support with vague conditions that the organization “tackle issues regarding safe sport, such as the toxic behaviours, the trivialization of sexual violence, and the culture of silence, which has too often made the headlines.”
Alberta prosecutors have lost the pieces of Cindy Gladue’s remains they made the unprecedented decision to present as evidence during the 2015 trial of the Indigenous woman’s murderer, Bradley Barton, according to her family. Both prosecutors — Carrie-Ann Downey and Carole Godfrey — have since been appointed as provincial court judges.
Alberta Premier Danielle Smith won’t take followup questions from reporters. It’s not like she was going to say anything interesting anyway.
The A/V Corner
Listen: TrueAnon kicked off its multi-part series on the Falun Gong with a review of the cult’s bizarre Shen Yun performance production, which you’ve probably seen ads for everywhere.