Budget was designed to sound good

The quick analysis of this year’s budget was that it read like an election platform that was long on statements of intent, but short on details.  Whether it was, gender equity, pharmacare, or even cracking down on tax cheats, the budget was more about sounding good than putting some meat on the bones of important ideas.  The problem is that with almost two years to go until the election, the government has passed on another opportunity to build an economy that lifts everyone up.

Canada has become a nation defined by the contrast between the wealthiest and the growing number of those who struggle to get by.  While more than 4 million people live with food insecurity, including 1.15 million children, the government refuses to crack down on tax loopholes for the super-rich and is failing to make real progress with programs that would help Canadians, like affordable housing and pharmacare.

New Democrats called on the government to use this year’s budget to close tax loopholes for the super-rich and crackdown on international tax havens.  The government chose not to act, offering nothing to tackle stock option loopholes used by wealthy CEOs, and handing out tax breaks to rich multinational companies like Netflix and Facebook. There was money announced for the Canada Revenue Agency collectors to track down individuals who use tax havens, but not enough to really tackle the severity of the problem.  Also, the budget doesn’t target large corporations who use these havens to avoid paying income tax. There is also nothing to end current agreements to forgive tax fraudsters, and no mention of renegotiating tax agreements with known tax havens. Instead, the government continues to sign tax agreements with tax havens like Grenada and the Cook Islands.  

Gender politics played a huge role in the theme of this year’s budget, but the resources needed to add teeth to any government commitment were sorely lacking.  While investing in pay equity for the civil service would position the government as leaders on the issue, they walked right past that option.  Instead, they will eventually introduce legislation to force employers to respect the principle of pay equity.  This is a vague open-ended commitment and not the stuff of budgets.

But Budget 2018 was full of this and Pharmacare could be the poster-child for all the non-monetary commitments it contained.  What was promised wasn’t pharmacare at all, but another study to study what has already been studied to death.  The day after the budget, the Finance Minister explained that the plan isn’t even full pharmacare, but a public/private version which passes up on the true savings that would flow from a fully public program. Instead of waiting for the Health Committee’s study to be completed, reading the findings of the Senate’s study, or the Parliamentary Budget Officers report, the government has already tipped their hand. 

The budget should also be viewed with an eye to what is missing.  There was nothing to protect pensions so that another Sears-like event doesn’t occur, and only a pittance to tackle the housing shortage in First Nation’s communities (approximately $300,00 per community).  Worse, there was a measure that stripped $400 million from the $650 million earmarked for northern and rural infrastructure over the next five years that was a part of last year’s budget.  While more will be revealed as Budget Implementation legislation is debated, the initial blush suggests the government is gearing up for the election with lots of promises for the future.