With a Federal election looming, it is no surprise that the recent budget featured a little bit of everything. After taking care of families with new tax cuts last October, the proposed budget delivers tax relief for seniors and small business owners to widen the appeal.
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. 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.
The Conservative budget's failure to initiate a process of comprehensive tax reform is a missed opportunity to lift Canada's prospects for long-term prosperity and growth. Tax reform and simplification would improve Canada's international competitiveness, productivity and economic growth, from both a personal and corporate perspective.
The big spending on the income splitting tax break, combined with the impact of lower oil prices has already left only a razor-thin balance and the Parliamentary Budget Officer predicts the budget will slip back into deficit in the next few years. Since it is no secret that this budget sets the stage for the upcoming federal election it is time for us to take a long hard look at the people we elect. We should not allow ourselves to be tricked by tax cut treats but think about who offers a plan for the future. Legacies take guts.
Since 2010, annual funding for the RCMP has declined in every year except one. The Conservatives claim they need to put new powers in the law, but police forces and security officers cannot fully utilize the laws already there when their budgets don't give them the necessary resources. And new laws will be meaningless without the funding to make them work. The well-being of Canadians is put at risk when these things are undermined. Honest or not, dangerous or not, Stephen Harper has been prepared to compromise even public safety to concoct the claim of a balanced budget before the 2015 election.
The Harper Conservatives have done a lot of damage to Canada. It has been the proverbial death by a thousand cuts: health transfers, aboriginal education and health, child care, social and co-op housing. The list goes on. It has increased stress on ordinary Canadians and created a huge social, economic and environmental deficit. And it has increased unemployment and harmed economic growth. The big question will be: Can damage be undone without raising taxes on 90 per cent of middle and lower income Canadians? The answer is yes.
With Canada's Gross Domestic Product (GDP) actually shrinking and despite having the worst economic growth record of any Prime Minister since R.B. Bennett, Stephen Harper seems keen to brag about the fiscal reputation of his Conservative Party. Well, let's take a close look. To begin with, here's an interesting question: How many Conservative Prime Ministers in all of the 20th century presented Canada with balanced budgets?
It's strange indeed to see the federal government and the central bank headed in opposite and contradictory directions. The Bank of Canada is moving to stimulate greater growth, while Mr. Harper pushes more austerity -- with the net effect of reducing aggregate demand.
Sharply dropping oil prices and a weakened Canadian energy sector are revealing the limited, ineffectual nature of Stephen Harper's economic policies. Those policies, focused almost exclusively on that one sector, are too narrow. They have rendered Canadians more vulnerable and less resilient. And his government seems out of gas. Unable to cope with adverse economic developments, Mr. Harper is now retreating to a bunker. Instead of reaching out to Canadians to show leadership and build confidence, he has punted the federal budget, normally delivered in February or March, into April or later. That means Canada will go without a budget for more than this entire fiscal year.
When a government underspends to the extent we are seeing with the Harper government, the estimates become unreliable. Parliamentarians aren't able to find out how much the government is actually spending until months after the end of the fiscal year. As a result, they can't inform the public about what programs and services have been diminished in time to make a difference. The way the underspending scheme stifles debate reminds me of the Harper government's omnibus legislation, except it's even worse.
The federal government now appears once again poised to balance its budget after several years of deficit spending. A step backwards in the direction of borrowing and spending more would be a huge loss with little economic reward.
Since their overall objective should be to find ways to deliver better services more efficiently to Canadians, and given their remarkable record of success, shouldn't Canada forge ahead with a stronger agenda for more Private-Public Partnerships?
Restoring the corporate tax rate would be a good start. When Ontario began cutting that rate in 2010 it was based on an idea that companies would use the savings for job creation and to develop new markets and products. That has not panned out. Instead Canadian corporations are sitting on $600 billion of hoarded cash that benefits very few.
While the Conservatives like to talk a big game, Canada's SMEs have received very little attention from the Harper government. Instead, when it comes to making policy, the Conservatives have made their priorities clear: they're on the side of Bay Street -- not Main Street.
Let me be clear: It is our duty to provide services to veterans in need from the time they begin their transition to civilian life until they pass away. And of course this is not just about veterans, but their families. That includes ensuring access to a dignified funeral and burial.
This budget certainly does a lot of things. It ignores struggling families desperately in need of daycare options. In 2006, the Conservatives cancelled the Liberal National Daycare Program, opting instead for a $100/month subsidy. Canadian families know how to stretch a buck, but $100 does not stretch very far.