OTTAWA (CCN) — The Liberal government tabled Canada’s first gender-based budget Feb. 27.
While Citizens for Public Justice, a Christian social justice think-tank, applauded the move as a “step forward,” CPJ’s executive director Joe Gunn said the “ambition wasn’t huge in this case.”
“There are many more things the government could do to make a gender-based budget really sing,” Gunn said. One key element would be a universal daycare system, but CPJ’s budget analysis pointed out the $7.5 billion allotted over 11 years “is far from the universal access required to ensure that women with children face fewer barriers when returning to work.”
CPJ also criticized the budget for not putting a “down payment on a Canadian Poverty Reduction Strategy.”
“This was just not mentioned in the budget at all,” Gunn said.
“There’s no question at all that the current government over-promises and under-delivers, so Canadians beware,” said Gunn.
Cardus, a think-tank based on Christian social teaching, questions whether the goals the budget sets out to achieve can be reached by government.
“I think this budget overestimates the power of government to make change,” said Brian Dijkema, program director Cardus Work and Economics, noting some of the differences between men and women are genetic, or are based on cultural traditions developed over a thousand years.
Andrea Mrozek, director of Cardus Family, said she believed the gender-based analysis is really a code to cover government goals of growing the GDP by getting more women into the workforce.
“They want the GDP to go up, so they’re going to use the power of the state to cajole more women into the workforce, basically allowed mothers fewer choices,” Mrozek said. “Low-income women are going to suffer the most,” she said. “If you have money, you can make a choice.”
While GDP promotion is a “legitimate goal of government, I don’t like dressing it up in equality language.”
Mrozek said she would have no problem with daycare programs targeted to support single moms, but she’s glad no new money was announced toward a universal childcare system. “With universal daycare you’re basically offering middle and upper class families a gift,” she said. The number of spaces will always be limited, and the higher income families usually get first in line, so “low-income women can’t access the spaces.”
The government’s projected budget deficit for 2018-19 is $18.1 billion, three times higher than the $6 billion the Liberals had promised in allowing modest deficits of $10 billion for two years; and $6 billion in the third year. It has blown its budget projections each of the last three budgets — also tripling the promised deficit to nearly $30 billion in 2016, and again in 2017.
“It’s a question of priorities,” said Gunn, who noted the government could look at cutting some of the $25.5 billion that will be spent on National Defence in 2018-19. “Luckily our debt to GDP ratio (projected to be 30.1 per cent for 2018-19) is still falling. I think in 2019, everybody’s expecting an election budget, so that will probably not end the deficit at all,” Gunn said.
“It’s not fiscally responsible,” said Mrozek. “Families are going to end up paying for it eventually, perhaps generations down the road. There isn’t a country yet that hasn’t had to face the music on this.”
“One person’s debt is another person’s asset,” Dijkema said, noting government debt is held by private bondholders. “Those people want to get paid, and the more money that goes to servicing the debt, the less money there is for government programs.”
Dijkema also challenged the Liberal government’s commitment to pay equity, which he stressed is different from equal pay for men and women doing the same jobs, which is a matter of justice.
“When you start talking about equal pay for work of equal value, you have to ask the question of who determines value,” he said. When the market determines value, it reflects the individual decisions of people. Having government determine the value of work in different industries traditionally dominated by women or by men “ignores the importance of the market,” he said. “It gives far too much power to the government.”
Both Cardus and CPJ applauded the expansion of the Working Income Tax Benefit, now renamed the Canada Workers Benefit. Dijkema noted the idea for this benefit has had all-party support and it is in these programs that cross partisan lines the budget does well.
The government recognizes it is inherently good for people to be working, so it is helping subsidize work by not clawing back welfare benefits, Dijkema said. “The government will give you money to top you up and help you over the welfare wall.”
Gunn gave high marks to the large amounts of spending on indigenous peoples in addition to the $11.8 billion previously announced in 2016 and 2017. Included in this budget is $5 billion over five years to help give “indigenous children and families an equal chance at life”; $1.4 billion over six years to help First Nations Child and Family Services help at-risk families and children; and an additional $172.6 million to provide safe drinking water on reserves. “Those are huge gaps in Canadian society,” Gunn said. “That is funding that has to be there.”
On the promised study of pharmacare, Gunn said the churches have supported a drug program for 20 years, but how it will roll out remains to be seen. Canada Without Poverty (CWP), a coalition that CPJ belongs to, said the money is needed now.
“One in 10 people in Canada cannot afford their prescribed medications,” said Liz Majic in a CWP news release. “While an advisory council on this policy area may be a step in the right direction, we already know it makes financial sense to invest in pharmacare and we need action, rather than more research.”
Another disappointment for CPJ is the lack of any action in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, Gunn said. “We need to bite that bullet and move forward.”
Gunn noted an important part of the Canadian climate framework the Liberals announced in 2016 involved provinces paying a carbon tax. “This has not come into being,” Gunn said. It was supposed to come into being in the beginning of this year, and now it’s postponed to the beginning of next year. The carbon tax will be a “revenue stream for the government,” he said. He noted the government is still providing $1.6 billion in subsidies to the fossil fuel industry.