The Devil is in the details with the federal budget

Canadians elected the Liberals in October with a lot of hope based on a campaign that promised the moon to just about anyone dissatisfied with Stephen Harper’s time in office. Now that they have delivered a budget it’s time to compare those promises with what is being delivered.  The result is a mixed bag that will take years to fully understand.

In Northern Ontario big ticket issues like the Ring of Fire, FedNor, and Forestry were left unaddressed and the haze surrounding infrastructure commitments makes it impossible to say whether the region will benefit.  First Nations hopeful for a reversal of fortune from the lean Harper - and to be honest Chretien and Martin - years were the subject of significant ink in the document, but again, the hoped-for funding is falling short of commitments made just 5 months ago.  

Clearly in the north we need an economic jump start in the worst way.  The Ring of Fire has the potential to benefit the region, but its continued exemption in budgets makes it appear more like a pipe-dream than a pipeline to success.  While New Democrats applaud the continuation of the Mineral Exploration Tax Credit, without a commitment to the Ring of Fire the puzzle remains largely unsolved. 

Infrastructure projects also bring the promise of economic activity with proven spin-offs that buoy regional economies.  But the dollar amount was less than what was promised and with no specifics attached, we can only wait to see if this money will be available to rural and northern communities or if it flows to the big cities instead.

With respect to First Nation’s children, I will take my cues from Cindy Blackstock, who has done so much to highlight and actually confirm the unequal treatment that on-reserve children face.  She tells us this budget comes up short.  While we can all applaud the removal of the 2% funding cap that hobbled First Nation schools for two decades, we must also note the budget fell short on promises to close that gap between those schools and others in Canada. 

Economist Rob Gillezeau wrote an interesting piece in Macleans that stated the same ‘inherited shortfall’ the Liberals claim is holding  them back from fulfilling promises made to First Nation Children was no barrier when it came to the middle class tax-cut that unequally benefits top earners in that tax bracket.

Right now there are 850,000 Canadians out of work and only 50,000 are eligible for Employment Insurance.  One would expect that EI would have played a more prominent role in the budget in order to address that.  It didn’t.  With the exception of a few additional weeks added to claimants in regions decimated by job losses, the budget did little to help more Canadians receive their benefits.  What it did do was continue the practice of raiding the fund to pay for other government expenditures by playing with $7 billion in premiums over the next three years instead of helping the 800,000 people who are relying on it when they need it most.

There is so much more to discuss, as is the case with any budget which is a blue -print for the parliamentary year. Over that time we will learn more about its shortcomings and successes.