Robyn Benson, PSAC

The 2014 budget and Canadian priorities

robyn on the hill.jpg

As I predicted, today’s budget had nothing much in it for ordinary Canadians, and I was on Parliament Hill last evening to say so. It’s a shamefully short-sighted political document that fails to address poverty, inequality, and the steady erosion of public services under the Harper government.

There’s some flashy stuff that looks positive enough, but much of it has little substance. $20 million a year for two years to buy a handful of paid internships for first-time job seekers—while youth unemployment remains in the double digits and students stagger under increasing debt loads. $2.9 million a year for four years to purchase some vocational training for people with autism. Want a yardstick? From 2009 until last October, $113 million was squandered on wasteful Economic Action Plan propaganda—$21 million in 2011-2012 alone. That would have bought a heckuva lot more internships and training opportunities.

Given the government’s appalling treatment of our veterans that’s made headlines recently, including the closure of nine badly-needed Veterans Affairs service offices across the country, the pledge of $2.1 million to improve online access to Veterans Affairs comes across as insulting and hollow. Our older vets are not all computer-savvy by any means: they’ve depended upon real people to get the services they need. But the ratio of Veterans’ Affairs workers to veterans is now the lowest it’s ever been. Building more online capacity won’t come close to restoring what’s been snatched away.

What’s particularly striking, in fact, are the band-aids now offered by the same government that has just finished inflicting deep wounds across the public service. Layoffs of food inspectors at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, for example, has likely jeopardized food safety—so a little money has been allocated to hiring some new ones. (One has to wonder what problems with our food supply have caused this minor reversal of course.) After closing vital search and rescue stations in BC and Newfoundland, the government is now offering a tax credit for search and rescue volunteers.

But a continued freeze on the public service means the loss of still more positions and programs—a further net loss, in other words, of public services, although the government won’t say which ones.

Hardly surprising, then, that there’s nothing in this budget to improve access to EI for the unemployed. Nothing to address rail safety, in the wake of the Lac-Mégantic disaster, and more recent ones. Nothing to open up access to child care, or to improve retirement security for Canadians: it’s all austerity, from the cradle to the grave.

The overall aim of this budget, we are told, is to keep the country “on track” for a balanced budget in 2015, when an expected surplus will no doubt generate a sprinkling of election-year goodies. But continued austerity isn’t what Canada needs: at least, that’s what more than a few economists are saying. We badly need the opposite, in fact, bold public investment in Canada to spur growth, benefiting all Canadians. Budget 2014, with its narrow focus on winning the next election for the Conservatives, was a missed opportunity—and our country will pay the price.

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This page contains a single entry by Robyn Benson, PSAC published on February 12, 2014 9:20 AM.

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