On Tuesday April 21st, Joe Oliver presented his first budget as Finance Minister. Its 518 pages have been universally described in less than flattering terms. It is really the Conservative platform dressed up as a budget -- long on promises, short on funding.
In order to get to "balance" he prematurely sold valuable shares in General Motors, losing $100 million in taxpayer's money in the process. He then mugged the emergency fund for $2 billion, leaving only $1 billion for serious emergencies. The emergency in this case was his mandate to "balance" the budget come hell or high water.
It's been obvious for years that climate change is not a priority for this government, but to produce a 518 page document that is the basis for the Conservatives' next election platform and not mention the existential threat of the century is truly appalling.
If ever the Canadian public needed a more graphic demonstration of Conservative misplaced priorities and contempt for the concerns of the majority of Canadians, it is in the failure to mention climate change in this key governance document.
While hell may not be here yet, high water has certainly arrived. The Calgary flood of 2013 went right through Prime Minister Harper's riding and he still didn't get the message. In Toronto the Don Valley suddenly flooded, trapping hundreds of drivers. Provinces and states on the east coast were battered by severe snowstorms this winter, which have led to flooding that has damaged infrastructure and made life miserable for people in Atlantic Canada. There are many other examples of random and extreme weather events, all or part of which are attributable to the effects of climate change.
My colleague Wayne Easter, the Liberal Member of Parliament for Malpeque in P.E.I. said the following of the storms: "Climate change is real. Weather patterns we face are more severe than I've ever witnessed, and the severity impacts not only our infrastructure but our daily lives."
Earlier this year New York Governor Andrew Cuomo echoed Mr. Easter's comments saying: "I've only been governor four years. I believe I've gone through more emergency disasters in four years than any governor in history has gone through. There is a pattern of extreme weather that we have never seen before."
Every Canadian pays for the devastation one way or another. Premiums on insurance policies have sky rocketed. Municipalities are scrambling to make their infrastructure more robust and either tax or borrow to pay the bills.
Which brings us to Joe Oliver's budgetary road kill. With great fanfare he announced $750 million for two years starting in 2017 and $1 billion thereafter for transit infrastructure. While a billion dollars may sound like a lot of money, bear in mind that it is for all of Canada and it doesn't start for a couple of years. By contrast, Ontario has just announced a $130-billion infrastructure fund, $50 billion of which will be devoted to the GTA.
The Eglinton-Scarborough Crosstown LRT that runs right through Mr. Oliver's own riding of Eglinton-Lawrence alone will cost $6.7 billion. If applied to the Eglinton LRT, the Conservative's infinitesimal portion of $1 billion spread across Canada wouldn't even create one station stop. Voters in the riding may want to keep that in mind when Mr. Oliver is at their door asking for support.
The message is loud and clear. The Conservative government has no interest in climate change, the effects of climate change, or funding projects which mitigate or adapt to climate change. Municipalities and provinces are on their own.
Anyone who has walked the sidewalks, driven over the potholes, jammed onto the TTC during rush hour, or commuted on the Don Valley parking lot, knows that the GTA is in desperate shape. A fraction of a billion doesn't cut it but at least Mr. Oliver can point to his bogus "balanced" budget while the rest of us fume in yet another traffic jam.
To cap it off, adding nearly $160-billion in debt to the burden of every single Canadian, their "Economic Action Plan" has produced the worst economic growth rates since the Great Depression. Simultaneously, President Obama has gotten the U.S. economy rolling with an unemployment rate under six per cent, while reducing his nation's greenhouse gas emissions.
No wonder Prime Minister Harper is de-linking his yet-to-be announced Paris commitments from President Obama. Having done nothing for 10 years we are now way behind our largest trading partner. President Obama's success has made it clear that you can have a strong economy and a healthy environment, yet inexplicably Stephen Harper and the Conservatives still don't get the message.
The definition of a political gaffe is when a politician inadvertently speaks the truth. On budget day, Joe Oliver said in response to a question about whether his budget will saddle future generations with revenue shortfalls "Well, why don't we leave that to Prime Minister Stephen Harper's granddaughter to solve that problem." This is a budget that leaves the mounting costs of climate change to the Prime Minister's grandchildren as well as yours and mine.
This bogus "balanced budget" is a scheme solely aimed at buying votes for short term political gain, while doing nothing for drivers, walkers, riders, municipalities, and lower and middle income earners who can't take advantage of the tax giveaways for the wealthiest. Worst of all, it leaves the consequences of climate change for our children and grandchildren to deal with.
John McKay is the Member of Parliament for Scarborough-Guildwood & the Environment Critic for the Liberal Party of Canada
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