House Call with Carol Hughes

Meet the new budget-same as the old budget

Anyone who recalls last year’s budget will recognize most of this year’s because it’s basically a re-hash with next to nothing in the way of new spending. Just like last year’s economic blue print, all the big projects are spread out over long periods of time and back-loaded. For example, the majority of the $11.2 billion announced for affordable housing won’t be spent until after 2022.

The truth is that the total new spending in the budget is quite small, adding up to only $1.3 billion of the $304.7 billion dollars being spent this year. The majority of the document is a collection of re-announcements and statements of general aim with next to no details attached. The intention to hunt down offshore tax cheats is a perfect example. No dollar amounts were allocated and there is no indication of how much the government hopes to recoup. All we get is a generic shout-out for an issue that has been giving the government a black eye.

There is little to cheer for from a northern perspective either. Instead of listening to concerns about how their new infrastructure bank will only reward private investors and big urban centres, the government doubled down on for-profit infrastructure. This all but ensures our region will be on the outside looking in when it comes to infrastructure designed to make profits instead of building up the framework of our country.

Much is being made about the focus on innovation in the budget, but in the north where access to high-speed Internet remains an inconsistent patchwork, that seems a lot like putting the cart ahead of the horse. Despite the CRTC’s historic ruling on internet access in December, the government has not joined in to ensure all Canadians are able to take part in any innovation funding or programs they will create.

The absence of a home energy efficiency retrofit program will be felt in the north. In addition to being one of the most cost effective ways to reduce emissions and lower energy bills, the program is a great job creator. In a part of Canada where most homes are heated with expensive electricity, propane, or oil, the government is passing up a golden opportunity to show the region our concerns are understood.

Changes to EI amount to window dressing as well. Maternity leave can now be spread out for an additional six months but the money is just being stretched out over time-there isn’t a  single new penny in this measure. Premiums are going up, but nothing in the budget will change the fact that six out of 10 unemployed Canadians cannot access EI benefits when they need them. We know that EI is the best stimulus to protect our smaller communities during cycles of unemployment, but with premiums going up and nothing new coming out, it is clear the government only sees EI as a tax on your job.

Perhaps the most glaring omission in the budget relates to the broken promise to close the gap in funding for First Nations child welfare despite multiple rulings from the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal. It’s abandoned promises like these and back loaded commitments that could be the undoing of this government.