As I went through the details of the federal budget -- the second for this Liberal government -- and considered the new ideas and, too often, the limits placed on those ideas, one thought kept coming to mind.
The new federal budget is high on symbolism, and low on details and money.
Take the announcement of $7 billion for child care and 40,000 new child-care spaces over three years. An announcement like that sounds great, and certainly more affordable child-care spaces are needed.
Unifor has been calling for this sort of action for years now. Affordable child care would significantly help women and families to build better lives. We cannot have true equity until the barriers keeping women out of the workforce are taken down.
But for any of that money to flow and for any of those spaces to be created, the provinces and the territories need to sign on to the idea and work with Ottawa to come up with a plan. In the end, that means we have the symbolism of a new child-care strategy, but no actual plan and no money until the plan is in place. Working families are still left waiting.
Another example is the new $1.26 billion Strategic Innovations Fund, which wraps up several smaller funds, including the much-criticized Automotive Innovations Fund, into one and adds another $200 million over five years to the pot.
Again, that sounds good, but there are no details. And it is those details in fine print that matter.
An employee works on the production line of cast aluminium engines at Honda Motor Co. Ltd.'s engine plant in Alliston, Ont. in this file photo dated Sept. 25, 2008. (Photo: Norm Betts/Bloomberg via Getty Images)
A fund that is supposed to help spur new investments and create good jobs barely merits one page in a 277-page document. Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains will likely release details of the plan in the coming months, but I'd rather have seen them come out with the budget. Let's be clear: a budget is not just about numbers and dollars. It is the government's political document to outline and set priorities, but this one leaves many things too open for interpretation on an actual plan.
Certainly, there has already been a lot of discussion about how such a fund should operate. The auto industry, for instance, has consistently said that a simplified system of dealing with government --and grants, not loans -- are the way to go. The old Automotive Innovation Fund got both points wrong, and this new fund must not repeat that mistake.
When Bains went to Alliston last month to announce a new program with Honda, the federal government offered grants, not loans -- but with no commitment that any future federal money would be also grants. This week's budget was a lost opportunity to clear up that ambiguity.
The government is headed in the right direction, it just might take longer to get there.
Investment is needed to fuel our economy, but this budget appears to only offer sprinkles of cash. There is an added $200 million to manufacturing investment. This amount will be rolled out over five years, and that is just not a lot when it comes to the needs of the industry to both build and grow good-paying jobs. In our last round of talks with the Detroit Three automakers last fall, Unifor alone negotiated $1.6 billion in auto investments in Canada -- more than the entire Strategic Innovations Fund.
After the struggles Unifor has had defending the rights of taxi drivers and of the public to a safe and regulated cab industry, it was good to see the GST being applied to ride-sharing services. But there was no such measure for Airbnb, which is hurting the hospitality industry and disrupting communities. Another missed opportunity.
All that said, it is all too easy to criticize a budget. An important thing worth noting is the general direction the 2017 budget shows. The government is headed in the right direction, it just might take longer to get there. It is through our critical views and demand for more that we the people and voters of Canada can collectively hold the government to account and push for the needs of working people.
I have definitely certainly seen worse budgets. The budgets of the previous Harper governments were mean-spirited and consistently offered policies that hurt working families.
Finance Minister Bill Morneau delivers the budget on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ont., March 22, 2017. (Photo: Chris Wattie/Reuters)
The first two budgets of the Liberal government, however, show a clear intention to help working Canadians, their families and their communities build stronger futures.
This federal government is definitely on a new path, and it is a critical path that incorporates and weaves in an important gender analysis to the budget and the budget process. The gender-based analysis of this year's budget is a first, and it is a welcomed beginning. Although it was tucked into the back of the document, I know this is a crucial step for what's to come. It contains a decent assessment of the impact of government policies on women and how they foster inequity, and even a few first steps on how to address them.
Evaluating numbers, investments and how those apply to women can help all of us better understand the inequality that exists and how the system of budgets can reduce that gap between women and men. This year's analysis was a first step. A somewhat tentative step, perhaps, but a good step.
There is no doubt that I would like to see the measures of this budget to come in faster, but I take some heart that the country is at least now moving after a decade of hurtful policies coming out of Ottawa.
And certainly this is a step in the right direction.
Follow HuffPost Canada Blogs on Facebook
Also on HuffPost:
Highlights from the 2017 federal budget tabled Wednesday, March 22 by Finance Minister Bill Morneau: (Source: The Canadian Press)
Employment insurance premiums are going up five cents to $1.68 per every $100 of insurable earnings, up from $1.63 — the maximum allowable increase under the Employment Insurance Act. Read more here. (Source: The Canadian Press)
The deficit is at $23 billion, down from $25.1 billion in the last fiscal update, and is projected to reach $28.5 billion for 2017-18 — including a $3 billion contingency fund — before declining to $18.8 billion in 2021-22. Read more here. (Source: The Canadian Press)
The 71-year-old Canada Savings Bond program, first established in 1946, is no longer cost effective and is being phased out. Read more here. (Source: The Canadian Press)
Higher taxes on alcohol and tobacco products: the excise duty rate on cigarettes goes up to $21.56 per carton of smokes from $21.03, while the rates on alcohol are going up two per cent. Both will be adjusted every April 1 starting next year, based on the consumer price index. Read more here. (Source: The Canadian Press)
The public transit tax credit, which allows the cost of transit passes to be deducted, is being eliminated effective July 1. Read more here. (Source: The Canadian Press)
The budget dedicates $11.2 billion to cities and provinces for affordable housing over 10 years as part of the second wave of the government's infrastructure program, $5 billion of which is to encourage housing providers to pool their resources with private partners to pay for new projects. Read more here. (Source: The Canadian Press)
An "innovation and skills plan'' to foster high-tech growth in six sectors: advanced manufacturing, agri-food, clean technology, digital industries, health/bio-sciences and clean resources Read more here. (Source: The Canadian Press)
$523.9 million over five years to prevent tax evasion and improve tax compliance, including more auditors, a crackdown on high-risk avoidance cases and better investigative efforts. Read more here. (Source: The Canadian Press)
$7 billion in spending over 10 years for Canadian families, including 40,000 new subsidized daycare spaces across Canada by 2019, extended parental leave and allowing expectant mothers to claim maternity benefits 12 weeks before their due date. Read more here. (Source: The Canadian Press)
$2.7 billion over six years for labour market transfer agreements with the provinces and territories to modernize training and job supports, to help those looking for work to upgrade skills, gain experience, start a business or get employment counselling. Read more here. (Source: The Canadian Press)
$59.8 million over four years, beginning in 2018-19, to make student loans and grants more readily available for part-time students, and $107.4 million over the same period for assist students with dependent children. $287.2 million over three years, starting in 2018-19, for a pilot project to facilitate adult-student access to student loans and grants. Read more here. (Source: The Canadian Press)
A national database of all housing properties in Canada, known as the Housing Statistics Framework, to track details on purchases, sales, demographics and financing, as well as foreign ownership. Read more here. (Source: The Canadian Press)
$400 million over three years through the Business Development Bank of Canada for a "venture capital catalyst initiative'' to make more venture capital available to Canadian entrepreneurs. Read more here. (Source: The Canadian Press)
A comprehensive spending review of "at least three federal departments,'' to be named later, to eliminate waste and inefficiencies, as well as a three-year review of federal assets and an audit of existing innovation and clean-tech programs. Read more here. (Source: The Canadian Press)
$225 million over four years, starting in 2018-19, for a new organization to support skills development and measurement. Read more here. (Source: The Canadian Press)
$395.5 million over three years for the youth employment strategy. Read more here. (Source: The Canadian Press)
Follow Jerry Dias on Twitter: www.twitter.com/JerryPDias