The Liberal government took the wraps off its 2018 Federal Budget, titled “Equality and Growth”.
A major focus was on gender equality, and it was described by experts as a “placeholder” budget until 2019 – a federal election year. That could be, as former Liberal strategist Greg MacEachern put it, a chance for the Trudeau-lead Liberals to set the tone for the next election campaign while potentially saving room for bigger, flashier items to come closer to the vote.
This is the third budget tabled for Finance Minister Bill Morneau, who stated the government wants to ensure Canada is a great place to invest and to do business.
“And we’ll do this in a responsible way – carefully, letting evidence, and not emotion, guide our decisions,” he said. “At the same time, we need to stay focused on our long-term goal of building an economy that works for everyone.”
Here are some of the highlights from the Federal Budget.
More Working Women
As mentioned, gender equality is a prominent theme of the 2018 Budget, meaning more women in the workforce as part of an overall plan to promote so-called inclusive growth.
Measures include “proactive” pay equity legislation, as well as $3 million over 5 years for a “pay transparency” measure, to close the wage gap among federal workers and in federally regulated sectors, impacting roughly 1.2 million people.
$2.6-billion dollars is earmarked over 5 years for various measures to encourage and foster female entrepreneurs and business leaders, revamping procurement and expanding access to broadband internet.
Also over the course of 5 years, $1.2-billion will be invested, and another $344.7-million a year afterward, towards a new employment insurance parental sharing benefit that would provide additional “use-it-or-lose-it” benefits for non-birthing parents to encourage women to re-enter the workforce.
The Liberals got the ball rolling on an “Advisory Council on the Implementation of National Pharmacare” which will look at ways to establish a national drug program.
“Today at least 1 in 10 Canadians cannot afford the prescription drugs that they need, and every year over a million Canadians are forced to give up food and heat in order to afford their medicines.” the Finance Minister stated in the House of Commons.
The Council will be lead by former Ontario Health Minister Eric Hoskins.
While New Democrat finance critic Peter Julian called on the Liberals to commit to real spending on a national pharmacare program, among other items, he said mere talk about setting up such a program isn’t good enough.
Trade, Taxes, International Aid
Changes to income sprinkling, passive investment income and the small business tax rate are expected to save the government $925-million a year by 2022-23. Changes to the small business tax rate drew wide-spread ire from the business community.
$90.6-million will be spread out over 5 years to track down tax evaders and avoiders, plus $41.9 million over that same span, and $9.3-million a year afterward, to help Canada’s courts deal with the additional case load.
$191-million over 5 years to support jobs in the softwood lumber industry, including litigation under the World Trade Organization and NAFTA’s dispute resolution mechanism.
To bolster Canada’s trade ties with China and Asia, $75-million is being spent over 5 years, with $11.8 million a year afterward.
When it comes to international aid, the federal government is putting $2-billion over 5 years into it, through a new International Assistance Innovation program, designed to come up with flexible new financing arrangements, and the Sovereign Loans program.
Acute Housing Shortage
Tackling the acute housing shortage in Indigenous communities, $400-million is being invested over 10 years into upgrading and expanding Inuit housing and $500-million for Metis housing. In addition, approximately $1.4-billion over six years will support Indigenous children in foster care and promote family unification.
In the Red
The deficit for the 2018-19 fiscal year is at $18.1-billion dollars, which includes a $3-billion “risk adjustment”, and compared to last year’s deficit, its down from $19.3-billion. No timeline of when the federal books will be balanced was mentioned, as the shortfall is projected to decline slowly over the next several years, eventually reaching $12.3-billion by 2022-23 ($9.3-billion without the $3-billion cushion).
(With files from the Canadian Press)