COLUMN: From the Hill -- 2017 Budget Comments
As I discussed in my last column, the federal government had an opportunity in last week’s budget to finally start closing the growing income inequality gap in Canada. But, unfortunately the Liberals chose tax breaks for wealthy Canadians and giveaways to large corporations over helping the unemployed, veterans, and Indigenous children.
The Liberals recently voted in favour of an NDP motion demanding an end to the stock option loophole that lets CEOs pay tax at half the normal rate. But they failed to act on that promise in this budget. Meanwhile, half of the Canadian taxpayers—those who make less than $40,000 per year—will gain nothing from the so-called “middle-class tax cut”, which will instead primarily benefit those making between $90,000 and $200,000 per year.
In contrast to the lost opportunity to close the stock option loophole—which would have brought in almost $800 million each year—the Liberal government has once again refused to close the $155 million gap in funding for First Nations child welfare, despite their clear promise to do so, and multiple rulings from the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal demanding that they act.
The only good news on employment insurance is that there is finally a provision for care givers—people who have had to temporarily leave work to care for seriously ill family members—to collect EI, something that the NDP has been fighting for. But there nothing else to help the more than six in ten unemployed Canadians who can’t access EI benefits now.
However, the most concerning part of the budget is the plan to privately fund large infrastructure projects. Rather than borrowing at 1 or 2 percent interest the government seems willing to pay investment banks 7 to 9 percent return on these projects—something that could only be done through increased fees and tolls.
In the 2015 election the Liberals promised to immediately end subsidies to the fossil fuel industries as part of their plan to help Canada make the shift to renewable energy. These subsidies are mainly in the form of exploration tax benefits, and amount to almost $1 billion per year. After no action last year, I was happy to see that these subsidies have been cut somewhat this time, though not eliminated.
I was disappointed that the government didn’t include a national pharmacare plan in the budget. Pharmacare would provide full prescription drug coverage to all Canadians while saving the country billions of dollars in the long run. Canada is the only country with a universal health care system that doesn’t include pharmacare.
Funding for veterans’ pensions has also come up short. Instead of the lifelong financial security the Liberals promised, they are offering unclear commitments and no timeline.
And finally, while the NDP welcomes the government’s belated pledge for more housing funding, the amounts in this budget are less than half of what the Liberals promised in the election and there is no specific mention of long-term funding for social housing.
It looks like we’ll have to wait another year to see any measures to stop the growing income inequality in our country—and Canadians were hoping for quicker action from this government.