House Call with Carol Hughes

Budget not designed to cause an election

Political pundits say the government wants an election, but last week’s 700-page budget didn’t play into that narrative. Instead, it appears designed to secure the votes they need to pass it. That was done by peppering the budget with enough NDP-friendly measures that it would be difficult to reject out of hand. Add to that the strongest wave of the pandemic slamming Ontario and Alberta making the timing of an election tone deaf—which federal polling only confirms.

It’s no surprise the budget extended pandemic measures related to aid programs like the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB), which we had been asking for. However, that benefit is slated to wind down again and there are concerns the government may be rushing if COVID-19 can’t be brought under control any time soon. Also, lowering the benefit in the final eight weeks could force households into debt.

The childcare announcement is the clearest indicating the government wants NDP support. It could be argued they can benefit from our advice as well. While only so hopeful about an item that Liberals have been promising for 28 years, we have concerns about subsidizing for-profit daycare. Not only is that a waste of resources, our experience with long-term care showed the first concern of profit-driven models was not the people they were supposed to care for—something we can’t repeat with childcare.

Although there was nothing for pharmacare in the budget after emphatic campaign promises and throne speech commitments, it isn’t surprising since the government hasn’t even endorsed the report they chartered on it. There was budget money for drugs for rare diseases and conditions, but that isn’t pharmacare. In the middle of a public health emergency, the abandonment of planning for this commitment is hard to understand.

One issue New Democrats proposed for more than a decade is making FedNor a stand-alone regional development agency, which will happen if the budget is enacted. Another NDP win is the return of home retrofit programming targeted at big items like replacing a furnace or a water heater. This has a proven track record of stimulating local economies while addressing environmental concerns. We also support raising the federal minimum wage to $15/hour and are pleased that years of effort in support of a national autism strategy will finally receive funding to begin that process.

Even before the budget, New Democrats were pushing back at the government’s two-tiered response for senior citizens which ignores the needs of those 65-74 years old. The $500 being made available for those 75 and over and plans to raise OAS only for that same age group ignores the reality of too many seniors. They plan to table legislation for this in the future, but this is a stale promise that could have been dealt with by now; even if we want to ensure it flows to all eligible seniors, there is little point in making those over 75 wait.

Budgets have to be paid for and New Democrats proposed taxes on the ultra-wealthy and temporary measures to ensure pandemic profiteers contribute to tackling the problem that increased their fortune. The government is taking baby steps in that direction, but their proposals earn in four years what the NDP plan would return every year. In a time of bold spending, it is imperative to reconsider the tax advantages that have been extended to the wealthiest in the country.

There will be weeks of debate on the budget and moments of tension throughout the process, but that doesn’t mean we should be heading to the polls, especially in the middle of this critical third wave. New Democrats want to work with the government on these commitments with the hope of progress on the items we have proposed and advocated on for a long time. As we wait for enough of our population to be vaccinated so that we can ease restrictions, it seems like the best use of parliamentarians’ time.