Thursday, January 29, 2009

The long awaited federal budget has been delivered. The short lived 'Coalition' is dead, replaced by what the leader of the federal NDP describes as a "new coalition", one of the Conservatives and Liberals. While the smaller parties have declared their intent to vote against the budget the Liberals, under Ignatieff, have given their support. Their only real condition- that regular accounts of the progress of the plans be given regularly to Parliament. This, of course, is pretty well what is already done anyways. It was no surprise that the Conservatives, almost breathlessly, announced their support for the meaningless Liberal "amendment".

Meanwhile there is much to criticize in the budget document. Would increased spending rather than a tax cut have been more stimulatory ? Would a cut to the GST have been a better option than than minor cuts to income tax ? Has access to EI really done enough to protect those who will be losing their jobs in the recession. Molly has discussed various approaches to the federal budget before on this blog, including those of labour, economists and her own ideas. Here's a press statement from the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP) reflecting on what is missing from the budget in terms of Canada's poorest citizens.
Statement on the Federal Budget‏:
Today’s budget will do little to help low income Canadians. Harper’s government has made some attempt to placate the opposition, but his efforts will only help a shrinking fraction of the population. The spending strategy is described as Timely, Temporary, and Targeted. Indeed it is. It’s too little, too late, for too few. While 75 billion dollars are given to the financial sector, there are only scraps left for the poorest in our society.

In line with the ongoing Harper agenda, the budget emphasizes tax cuts, instead of making real investments in housing, infrastructure and people. He crows about investing in social housing and unemployment insurance. The budget says that it will invest 2 billion into social housing. Sounds great. But the cost of repairs to Ontario's housing are estimated at about $1.2 billion. And 60,000 people are on the waiting list for social housing in Toronto alone. Given that much of the infrastructural funding is dependent on cost-sharing with the cash-poor provinces and municipalities, the figures are misleading. Harper claims that he’s making things easier for laid off workers by adding 5 weeks to employment insurance. Given that 60% of Canadians aren’t eligible, this will do little for the majority of those suffering in the economic downturn.
As factories close and businesses go bankrupt, more and more Canadians will need help. Unfortunately the tax cuts, benefits and incentives will do little for them when they’re evicted, unable to obtain employment insurance, or scraping by on welfare and food banks. A budget that would really address the needs of the increasing ranks of poor Canadians would raise the welfare rates, expand employment insurance in a serious way, build new and quality social housing invest in transit, education and health care. This budget doesn’t even try.
An economic recession that leads to layoffs, evictions and poverty is not the time for bailing out the corporations and playing political games. It’s the time to organize in our communities to support one another, and to fight to ensure that the poorest, the most vulnerable, are not abandoned yet again.

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