Budget 2017 an opportunity to be progressive

While a Throne Speech sets the agenda for a full parliament, budgets are where the bulk of the planning really gets done.  That’s when tax measures and spending really start to take shape.  With the advent of omnibus budgets, more than just spending can be crammed into a budget making it almost certain to be the most important piece of legislation a government will put forward year after year.

In their first budget, the Liberals focussed on infrastructure, but took a long view with $120 billion earmarked to roll out over ten years.   The budget was considered unambitious given the sense that so much was thought to have changed from the Conservative government they replaced.  By tabling the smallest budget in years, the government signalled that any big changes would have to wait.

As we prepare for budget 2017, New Democrats are reminding the government that the time has come to build an economy that lifts everyone up, not just a handful of lucky individuals at the top.   That starts with keeping the campaign promise to address a gaping hole in our tax code that costs Canada more than $800 million a year for stock option deductions for CEOs.  They abandoned that promise in response to corporate lobbying, but if they want to be progressive that’s the place to start. 

They can use that money to make good on important promises that are not being kept – like closing the funding gap that exists for Indigenous peoples.  That means making promised investments in child welfare and mental health services, building physical infrastructure to put an end to boil water advisories in Indigenous communities, and lifting the punitive 2% cap on funding transfers. 

New Democrats are worried by numerous leaks suggesting the government is thinking about selling off Canadian assets like airports just to turn a quick buck.  That will lead to increased user fees for many years to come and is part of a dangerous trend towards for-profit infrastructure.  This is the same thing that happened provincially with hydro.  The gains are short-term, but the costs become permanent.  It is also the exact opposite of investing in public infrastructure which is what most Canadians are expecting.

When it comes to infrastructure, the Parliamentary Budget officer has warned us that the government has not met its budget commitments in their first year, leaving $2.5 billion unspent.  While that is troublesome it also represents an opportunity to build our economy for now and the future by committing to a green economy.  That would create good full time jobs and allow Canada to become a leader in clean energy.   All it will take is an investment in home energy retrofits, training workers for the emerging green economy, and of course by getting critical infrastructure dollars out the door. 

Finally, New Democrats are urging the government to add prescription drugs to our universal health care. Canada is the only country with universal health care that does not have a prescription drug component.   If we move in this direction it will lower drug costs for Canadians and save billions.

There is still a chance for the government to use budgets to build Canada up in the progressive way most of their voters expect.  Whether they choose to do so or maintain the course they inherited from Stephen Harper remains to be seen.  We will have a better sense of that when the budget is delivered on March 22nd.