Thoughts On The 2016 Budget

Happy 2016 Budget! Can a budget be upbeat? Because that’s the vibe I get from Justin Trudeau and co.’s first crack at creating a fiscal plan for our country. Spending is, well, liberal and there are no tax rate increases. Though a less then-ideal-economic situation was acknowledged, the emphasis seemed to be on a positive future that was now just within our collective reach due to an increase in spending.

Canadian Press Photo
Canadian Press Photo; two bodies are needed to support that great head of hair

Yes, yes, there is a big, fat deficit (just like Harper used to run) but the Liberals did tell us that one was unavoidable under their plan (though true, it was supposed to be smaller). If I was running the show, I would have looked at closing up this country’s existing corporate tax loopholes to help shrink the deficit; the Liberals had talked about doing this and I’m curious why it didn’t happen.

Obviously running consecutive deficits is bad (though Harper did it six years in a row) but I’m okay with it happening for a couple years as long as the money is being spent wisely and in a way that should result in a stronger, more progressive and more employed country. And at first glance, that’s exactly what this budget is aiming to do.

Here’s what I like about it:

  • $1 billion over four years for clean energy: How many years until “clean energy” becomes just regular old energy? Maybe a little sooner thanks to all the money that’s being dedicated to what’s undeniably a growth area. If spent wisely, this should result in new jobs (including some for former oil workers), new innovations and a greener Canada.
  • $1.9 billion over five years for arts and cultural organizations: We’re not in Harperland anymore! While the arts and culture fields are often viewed as luxuries, they are a serious business that employs thousands and generates millions that are then spent on such items as energy, retail estate and consumer goods. Funding these areas should be just as key as supporting any other sector of the economy, particularly since they are ripe for growth and expansion (unlike say, manufacturing).
  • Cancelling various child/student-oriented tax credits and replacing it with one tax-free payment: Now based on a sliding scale, this payment will see households with an income of income of under $30,000 get $6,400 per year for each child under six and $5,400 for children aged six to 18. Households that make over $190,000 won’t receive this payment, which I think we all can agree is fair. And I think we can all agree that making this payment tax free just makes sense. While I know some will be upset at the elimination of tax credits, putting more cash directly in the hands of low-income family should have a greater impact than making sports camp a touch cheaper for middle-class families (though yes, a national daycare program would have been better).
  • Teachers’ school supply tax credit: I have a soft spot for this budget item because my mom’s a teacher and over her career she’s spent thousands on school supplies for her students. Sure, it only saves a teacher up to $150 a year, but it’s something and it finally acknowledges that educators often personally support their classrooms.
  • $39 million to enhance food safety: This is a small item but it’s super important. Under Harper, hundreds were laid off from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (including on-the-line inspectors) and millions in funding were cut. No wonder a US audit of our food safety systems gave it an unimpressive rating.
  • An additional five weeks of EI for hard hit areas: There you go Alberta; now shut up (I’m from there; I can say that).

And here’s what I don’t like:

  • Reducing the EI waiting period to one week: I would have left this as-is and instead extended the EI benefits for hard hit areas to six weeks. I feel this would be a better use of funds, particularly since most EI-eligible laid off people do get two weeks of severance, which can be used to fill the existing two-week waiting period  (additionally, I firmly believe that an employed person should have at least two weeks’ worth of savings).
  • Nothing on prescription drugs: It’s always amazed me that prescription drugs aren’t covered by our healthcare system. This seems like a serious flaw and one that’s only going to lead to more suffering as our population ages. To be fair, Trudeau never promised a comprehensive pharmacare program but he did promise $3 billion to cover various health care costs, including reducing the cost of prescriptions. Maybe this will come up in 2016-2017 (and maybe it’ll be covered by our new marijuana-related revenues?).
  • No dedicated spending on home care: That same $3 billion pledge was also to address the need for more home care. Yesterday’s budget didn’t touch on this topic, which surprises me since home care is becoming one of those services that is impacting more and more people.
  • It gave Rona Ambrose talk time: Did she suffer a severe head trauma that erased the past 12 years of her life? Does she not remember the deficits that Harper ran? The less often I have to see her on TV, the better. (Wikipedia tells me that Rona is a fan of Ayn Rand; seems about right.)

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