House Call with Carol Hughes

Economic statement a failed opportunity

Anyone hoping that the government’s economic statement would show how it plans to move through the pandemic and into recovery was disappointed this week. The update was less of a plan and more of another in a string of vague speeches hinting at future action. There was little to support job creation, less that tied those efforts to our other existential crisis of climate change, no plan to tax the ultra-wealthy, or pandemic profiteers, and only a nod to future childcare efforts that cannot be separated from the fact the government hasn’t honoured their August commitment to help existing providers weather the pandemic.

While we are waiting for the bulk of jobs to return, it is important to remember that more women and visible minorities have been put out of work and those jobs have been the slowest to recover. It seems sensible the government would look for a way to address that, however, nothing in the statement signaled they are overly concerned. While a national subsidized childcare program is seen as among the best ways to bring more women into the workforce and a huge means of economic stimulus, the government is still sending signals that it needs to study more. Worse, there was no indication they will honour their commitment to spend $2 billion that experts tell us is needed to stabilize our current system through the pandemic. That means the recovery will remain uneven for many.

Economists tell us that we are in the midst of a K-shaped economic recovery meaning some of the wealthiest companies are doing well while small businesses and everyday working-class people have seen their fortunes drop. This is exactly why New Democrats have been calling for an excess profits tax on those making money directly off the pandemic. A temporary tax similar to the one levied on companies that made profits from World War II would make sense and ensure the burden of paying for the pandemic is not unduly placed on household budgets. The statement offered nothing on this front or for calls to tax the ultra-wealthy.

What was obviously missing from the economic update is a long-term sustained investment in people. That could easily dove-tail with our pressing need to address climate change and mitigate against the effects we are already experiencing. The government did claim they would introduce a limited retrofits program and have plans to expand e-car charging stations across the country which will be welcome, but won’t significantly move Canada toward our climate commitments or create many new jobs.

The pandemic exposed the problems at long term care (LTC) homes, many of which are for-profit businesses that floundered when they were faced with adversity. Despite this knowledge it took 10 months for the government to address the problem. Now that we are well into the second wave of the pandemic, the government has found $1 billion to shore up these homes, but the provinces are already pushing back and many observers are concerned the funds could go to shareholders and executives without improving the conditions for residents in LTC homes. Eventually, we will have to consider the case against for-profit LTC facilities. Right now, we have to help them through the pandemic and save lives.

As the pandemic continues, the convergence of public health and economic prosperity has become increasingly politicized. In the weeks ahead we will hear rampant speculation about an election. As it stands now, New Democrats have been able to negotiate in a way that has been a benefit to Canadians and see no reason why that can’t continue. Our priority is to ensure that people are the centre of Canada’s pandemic response. As long as we can secure concessions and help the government make improvements to their plans, we will find our way past election scenarios. That is the job Canadians asked us to do and we are committed to that above our political fortunes. The same can’t be said for all parties.