By Nikki Jamieson
Sunny South News
Growth, progress, advancement and reconciliation were the major themes in the 2018 Federal Budget that was tabled last week.
Much like last year’s budget, which ran a rather immense projected deficit at $28.5 billion, this year’s budget ran another huge deficit, albeit significantly less at $18.1 billion. Although the Liberal government had said in advance that they will be running deficits this term, Lethbridge MP Rachael Harder did not hide her disappointment about it.
“In the 2015 campaign, the Liberals promised that they would only go into a deficit by about $6 billion this year, and instead, we look at the budget, and the deficit number is $18 billion,” said Harder. “I think I was hopeful they would incur less of a deficit, but their past behavior prepared me to expect the worst, and certainly, $18 billion is three times as much as they promised, in terms of the deficit, so that was really disappointing.
“That’s three times as much as what they promised in their campaign platform, and so that is absolutely unacceptable. That is, it’s hypocritical of them, and it certainly does not deserve the trust of Canadians.”
Running continuous deficits like this will likely result in either increased taxes or cuts to programs that “they love and depend on”, according to Harder.
Additionally, Harder said that although the Liberals said originally that they would take deficits in order to help fund infrastructure projects, in this budget they cut funding for infrastructure.
“What they’ve actually done in this budget is cut Canadian infrastructure projects by $2.1 billion, and they’ve put billions of dollars in infrastructure banks in other countries in order to work on their infrastructure projects, which of course doesn’t make a lot of sense. So at the end of the day we see a lot of spending, but we don’t see a lot of it benefiting Canadians directly.”
Although a national housing strategy was announced last year, with $40 billion — to be matched by provinces and territories — earmarked to be spent in the next 10 years. But money for building or repairing affordable housing won’t be released until 2019-20.
“They’re implementing changes to how mortgages are granted, but are actually making homeownership unattainable for the next generation,” said Harder. “So this government is actually robbing young people of the opportunity to afford, or robbing young people the opportunity to purchase a home.”
Although housing is cheaper in southern Alberta then other parts of Canada — according to the The Canadian Real Estate Association, the average price of a home sold in Lethbridge in December 2017 was $264,482, the average price of a house in Toronto is $736,783 — younger generations have citizen the lack of affordable housing that is delaying their ability to buy a home.
Previously announced funding of $332 million for other housing initiatives is reserved for 2018-19, but the only new funding from the 2018 budget is an additional $1.25 billion, for a low-interest loans program for builders of rental housing over the next three years.
One thing Harder did like about the budget was that it addressed the gender wage gap.
According to the budget, women make 31 per cent less then men annually, and make 12 per cent less in hourly wage for full-time work. The budget pledged to put in place pay-equity legislation for employees in the federal government and federal-regulated sectors.
“Us Conservatives always believed woman deserve equal pay for equal work, and we do know there is a bit of a gap, in what women make and what men make. The Liberals have aspired to help close that gap. I can appreciate that aspiration,” said Harder, who is the Shadow Minister for Status of Women. “Now at the end of the day, I’m going to be looking for legislation to come out, and I’m hopeful that there will be real action taken on this file, in order to serve Canadian women from coast to coast.”
Another hot issue in the budget was tax changes. Last summer, when the small business tax changes were first announced, Harder travelled across her riding to educate and speak out against them, hosting town halls and hearing her constituents concerns about them.
Income sprinkling — which benefitted families who ran a small business together as a partnership — has been done away with, and passive income investments taxes increased, which Harder says will make it harder for people to save for retirement or for small businesses to save for big purchases.
Harder did like the five-week increase to parental leave. The budget proposed a ‘use-it-or-lose-it’ enticement for new fathers to take parental leave, and the Employment Insurance Parental Sharing Benefit would increase EI parental leave to a maximum of 40 weeks if the second parent agrees to take at least five weeks off for parental leave, covering 55 per cent of the their income for up to 12 months. If parents chose to take the extended parental leave of 18 months, the second parent could take up to eight weeks of additional parental leave, paid out at 33 per cent of their income. The benefit would be made available in June 2019.
“We believe that that’s a good thing, to be able to support families to stay home with and to be with their newborn.”
The Conservative party hopes to improve on that, however. Earlier last month, before the budget was tabled, Conservative leader Andrew Scheer put forward a private members bill — The Supporting New Parents Act — that proposed to give those on parental leave a credit on their employment insurance benefits that was equal to the federal tax on those benefits, or giving new parents a tax break.
“At the end of the day, Canadians shouldn’t have to pay taxes on staying home with their baby.”
One item that people were keeping an eye on was reports that the Liberals would start moving towards a national pharmacare program. Budget 2018 announced the creation of an Advisory Council on the Implementation of National Pharmacare, to study how to best implement it. Harder does not have confidence in the effectiveness of the advisory council.
“Let’s be realistic here; what they promised in the budget was they would put together a commission to look at the possibility of implementing a pharmacare program in Canada. That’s very different then actually taking tangible action,” said Harder.
“On this commission, the individual that will be heading this study up is the current house minister of Kathleen Wynne’s government in the province of Ontario. We know how disastrous that government has been. And so we don’t expect positive results to come out of this study. The other thing that needs to be considered here is again, it is a commission that’s been founded to study pharmacare and come back with potential recommendations, and we saw what happened with this government putting in place a commission to look at murdered and missing aboriginal women. It did not go well. It did not deliver results. So I am hesitant to expect anything positive from this initiative.”
Ultimately, Harder said that her concern with the budget was the amount of money being spent and little being done to benefit Canadians.
“What we see in this budget is government spending, spending spending, and not taking into consideration the very people how have elected that government to be there. It’s putting government first, it’s putting people second, and that’s not good governance.”