OTTAWA (CCN) — The federal 2015 budget is an election document that sets out its vision for the middle class, but a social justice think-tank say it does little to address poverty or climate change.
Cardus co-founder and executive vice-president Ray Pennings said October’s federal election will be “a battle for the middle class” with three competing visions for “what middle class actually means” and how government best serves it.
Finance Minister Joe Oliver’s first budget aimed at balancing the books after years of deficit spending, and brings it in with modest surplus of $1.4 billion. It reduces taxes on small business in order to create jobs and promises spending on infrastructure and security in the coming years. It includes the promised income splitting for families and raises the Tax Free Savings Account limit from $5,500 to $10,000 a year.
For the Conservatives, “government support for the middle class means leaving the middle class more of their own money and incentivizing them to save,” Pennings said. The New Democrats have spoken about how “we all need to be middle class; ‘middle class ’r us.’ ”
The NDP has focused on redistribution of wealth from corporate and top income earners and “those on the bottom who aspire to be middle class and trying to get at income inequality,” Pennings said. The NDP has also promised a national institutional child care program.
Since Justin Trudeau has become Liberal leader, he has said, “the middle class needs a pay raise,” and targets ways government can help the middle class do better. The task of government in the Liberal view is to “cast a big vision and aspire to lead” in terms of what government can do to help. So far, however, the Liberal platform remains vague, with Trudeau promising to deliver more details as the election draws closer.
The three main parties are all targeting the middle class but “with very different pitches in terms of what they understand the middle class is looking for from the federal government,” Pennings said. They set out “different understandings of the task of government and the status of the family and how the family contributes and what should be expected in terms of individual and public responsibility.”
In the election, middle class voters will be asked to assess their priorities, Pennings said. “Do they see their priorities as consumers, as spenders of their own money? Is their priority some sort of shared identity with all their fellow citizens? Or is their priority some big dream where we’re looking for the government to lead us.”
Citizens for Public Justice (CPJ) agreed the budget is an election document but said it “is not for everyone in Canada” and “ignores the 4.8 million Canadians who live in poverty.”
“And with major climate negotiations coming later this year, it ignores the climate crisis that future generations will have to deal with,” CPJ said on its website. “It ignores the tens of thousands of vulnerable refugees who come to Canada looking for a better life.”
CPJ cited an Ipsos poll that showed Canadians would prefer investments in “jobs, the economy and social programs to a balanced budget.”
“If Budget 2015 is any indication, the only climate of interest to the government is Canada’s investment climate,” CPJ said.
CPJ pointed out Opposition parties say income splitting will only help 15 per cent of Canadian families. It argued there are better ways to address poverty than the previously announced increase in the Universal Child Care Benefit, such as raising the Working Income Tax Benefit (WITB).
Institute of Marriage and Family Canada (IMFC) executive director Andrea Mrozek said the budget represents a cumulative effect of many budgets that have cut taxes for families. The budget document shows the cumulative effect of tax cuts since 2006, including the GST reduction, child benefit increases and personal income tax relief to be as high as $6,640 for a two-earner family of four.
“In general, balanced budgets, combined with tax cuts to enable families to keep more of their own money is a good thing,” Mrozek said.
One of the highlights in the budget for Pennings was the $37 million toward increasing compassionate leave from six weeks to six months. While small in proportion to a $300 billion budget, granting EI for compassionate care of a family member with a terminal diagnosis is a “very positive step in the right direction,” he said.
Though it is not the kind of comprehensive vision mapped out by the All-Party Parliamentary Committee on Palliative and Compassionate Care (PCPCC), it is “an opening for more steps to come,” he said.
“The bottom line is that we’re not far away from double the number of Canadians dying per year than die today as baby boomers are moving through the system,” Pennings said. “Seventy per cent say they want to die at home but 70 per cent die in the hospital.”
“I think there are significant changes that are needed,” he said.
The budget offers small amounts to a range of interest groups. “Obviously, the primary narrative is coming into and staying in balance,” he said.
“What struck me was the caution that was there about the health of the economy,” said Pennings. “They did not predict the price for oil. “There, too, is lots of language about monitoring the situation.”
“So the message about economic health and prosperity is that we are not out of the woods yet,” he said.
Big increases in defence spending, and investments in infrastructure are big ticket items promised to be spread out over the coming years, after the election, he said.
dire circumstances who desperately need help to meet their most basic needs,” he said.
Pope Pius XI founded CNEWA in 1926 and entrusted it to the archbishop of New York, where the Holy See charity maintains its head office. In 2002 the Vatican’s Congregation of the Eastern Churches asked the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops to open a CNEWA office in Canada, “because of the rising need of the Eastern Catholic Christians all over the world,” said Hétu.
The then Ottawa archbishop, now emeritus, Marcel Gervais agreed to host the national office and Hétu was hired in 2004 to make preparations for the office’s opening in 2005.
At the time, CNEWA was the only organization focused exclusively on the Eastern Catholic churches. CNEWA has the two offices in Ottawa and New York, and offices in Jerusalem, Amman and Beirut that implement, manage and report on its programs in the region, Hétu said. The two offices combined raised a total of $7 million last year.
“When CNEWA Canada was created it was connected with the signs of the times,” Hétu said. After the terrorist attacks on 9/11 in 2001, “we saw many were projecting the conflict of religion, and a confrontation of the Muslim world and the Christian world.” The world had just come out of the Cold War into an era of globalization, Hétu said, when the terrorists hit the Twin Towers in New York City.
Prendergast, who was then archbishop of Halifax, recalled how CNEWA Canada raised less than $400,000 in its first year of operations.
“I am proud to have been a founding member of CNEWA in Canada and to have seen the growth of its charitable works over the last decade, yet I am saddened too at the great needs that continue to make this organization necessary,” the archbishop said.
Hétu spent two weeks in Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine and Israel in January meeting with many Syrian and Iraqi refugees. “During my last trip, I saw the suffering is a lot worse than I thought,” he said. “We need not to forget about our suffering brothers and sisters in Christ.”
“Many have been on the run for two or three years. Many children have missed school for two years,” he said, noting that many who have been living in tents for that time are becoming desperate. “They are calling for an end of all the wars.”
Both Hétu and Prendergast spoke from personal experience of the gratitude they saw in the region expressed toward Canadians.
“Thank you comes from each individual I met,” Hétu said. “Their lives have improved over the last few years because of the generosity of Canadians. All those people so grateful, and of course they mention, ‘Don’t forget about us.’ ”