OTTAWA—What a Biden-esque budget; it smells like America’s Rescue Plan up in here (if you missed that DMX reference, I can’t help you).
The federal budget that we’ve been waiting two years for dropped on April 19 and, whew, wigs snatched. Firstly, let’s take a moment and recognize how historic this budget is: Canada’s first female minister of finance, the first working mother to deliver a budget in this country—and one that focuses on people. How radical. Instead of bowing to political punditry from old, privileged white men who always cry about debt and deficits except when the spending largess reaches big businesses, she bucked a neoliberal ideology that has produced some of the largest equity gaps in our systems.
This budget reminds us that the human cost of the pandemic far outweighs the spending necessary to restore lives. This is the difference between price (spending) and value (investments). And it’s a distinction with a difference.
There is something in here for everyone and something stolen from each opposition party. From the Conservatives, the Liberals beheaded that party’s first attempt at looking human. In producing its own mental health plan, the government takes racialized communities into consideration: “Racialized and Black Canadians can also face distinct challenges with mental health including structural racism and inequities in access to care.” And that is a lot of the tenor of this budget—inequities—and that is the role of government that Conservatives refuse to acknowledge, much less address. They’re still All Lives Matter in a Black Lives Matter, MMIWG, and Stop Asian Hate world. Without their one-trick pony of deficit spending as a crutch to hide a lack of political vision, the Conservative Party seems lost.
Structural and systemic inequities are the greatest threat to Canadian standard of living. If your work doesn’t have that lens applied to it, then you’re failing. If we want all Canadians to be able to participate fully in this country, we have to remove barriers and provide supports for those who need them. Heather Scoffield’s column in the Toronto Star reminds us of this, “The pandemic didn’t just reveal weaknesses in our economy. It also exacerbated troubling inequalities that the government readily acknowledges will hamper the country’s ability to flourish in the future unless they’re addressed.”
Conversely, the Liberals made sure the NDP have no room to breathe and nothing to campaign on. This home invasion included the theft of childcare (to be fair the NDP gave that up from the days of Jack Layton), national pharmacare (not advanced in this budget), and beefing up sick leave benefits (only applicable to federally regulated workplaces). Short of a wealth tax, this budget is quite progressive, just not very structurally different.
The Liberals are trying to address structural and systemic inequities using the same structures and systems that produce those inequities. For example, the public service does not have the range to devise programs that are intersectional. Those who make decisions that could determine programming and policies, and intricacies—such as who is and who isn’t included and how to deliver them to disparate communities—are white, affluent, and most likely male. Those who have no idea what equity looks like are devising programs with an equity lens. Nothing could go wrong here. Secondly, the $30-billion investment in childcare, the Beyoncé of the budget, requires buy-in from the provinces, and it’s doubtful that this group of white men who have had the benefit of women’s unpaid labour buoying their political lives will comply. Unless there is renewed thinking as to how this program will be developed and delivered it’ll be another Liberal promise broken, which will do more to wreck Chrystia Freeland’s brand than her grandfather’s alleged associations.
But what about the deficit?
Unlike the aforementioned pundits stuck in the ’90s, new thinking has emerged on debt and deficits. Stephen Poloz, appointed to the Bank of Canada during Stephen Harper’s tenure, “is among the leading economists who say deficits can be managed as long as the rate of economic growth exceeds the interest rate governments pay to borrow.” At a conference, as relayed in the Financial Post, Poloz said he’d focus on boosting inflation-free growth of about two per cent and went onto say that were he finance minister, he would “spend heavily on productivity-enhancing infrastructure, especially childcare.”
So, what’s the problem? Instead of spending on businesses that use taxpayer money intended to save jobs to boost dividends and executive pay, the government decided to spend it on people suffering from a pandemic. For the affluent, that is the problem. A Financial Post investigation found that “at least 68 Canadian companies have continued to pay out billions in dividends to their shareholders while receiving government aid.” Here’s looking at you, Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy.
Seems like it’s the corporations that need to pull themselves up by their bootstraps. For those wondering how we’re going to pay for these measures, we can start by insisting these corporations pay the public back—with interest—and move onto raising the corporate tax rate. We’re all in this together, right?
Erica Ifill is a co-host of the Bad+Bitchy podcast.