POLITICS
02/27/2018 16:15 EST | Updated 02/28/2018 09:44 EST

Federal Budget 2018: Trudeau Liberals' Spending Plan Projects $18.1B Deficit

"It is a plan that puts people first."

Sean Kilpatrick/CANADIAN PRESS
Finance Minister Bill Morneau and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau leave the prime minister's office to table the federal budget in the House of Commons in Ottawa on Feb.27, 2018.

OTTAWA — The Liberal government is championing its values — and its spending — in a federal budget that reads like a campaign-friendly road map designed to ensure that no woman, scientist or national wildlife area gets left behind.

"It is a plan that puts people first — that invests in Canadians and in the things that matter most to them,'' Morneau told the House of Commons on Tuesday after he tabled the 2018 federal budget.

The document, which details a $18.1-billion deficit, including a $3-billion adjustment for risk, also shows the Liberal government is doubling down on the idea that spending money is good for the long-term future of Canadians — and that includes borrowed money, even when they had room to avoid it.

We've shown to Canadians that making investments in them, making investments to allow more Canadians to be working, has exactly the positive impact that we want it to have.Bill Morneau

Once again, despite Prime Minister Justin Trudeau having promised to end deficit spending by 2019, there is no timeline for getting back to black.

"We've shown to Canadians that making investments in them, making investments to allow more Canadians to be working, has exactly the positive impact that we want it to have,'' Morneau told a news conference Tuesday when pressed on that point.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer accused Trudeau of spending on money on his pet projects while increasing the debt of future generations.

"He gives with one hand. He takes more with the other,'' Scheer said Tuesday.

Still, Morneau argued that Canadians voted for the Liberal approach, and against Conservative cuts, in the 2015 election and it appears the Liberals are counting on them to do it again in 2019.

It is an argument the Liberals make most strongly when devoting dollars to things near to their progressive hearts.

The budget, as expected, puts a large emphasis on gender equality, which the Liberal government has decided to make a major theme of its G7 presidency as it prepares to host the gathering world leaders at a resort in La Malbaie, Que., in June.

Morneau focused on efforts to increase the participation of women in the workforce as part of a longer-term plan to grow the economy and prepare for the consequences of an aging population.

Justin Tang/CANADIAN PRESS
Minister of Finance Bill Morneau participates in a TV interview after tabling the budget in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Feb. 27, 2018.

"If half of our population are held back, we're just not going to be as successful,'' Morneau said before the budget was tabled.

One big part of that plan is to introduce up to five weeks of leave — with employment insurance benefits that come with a starting cost of $1.2 billion over five years — for new fathers, as a way to help break the pattern of mothers automatically taking on the greater share of child-rearing responsibilities, and losing earning power as a result.

There are also measures to boost the number of women entrepreneurs, as well as those in the male-dominated skilled trades, and a promise — without any details on what is expected to be a hefty price tag — to implement proactive pay equity legislation.

If half of our population are held back, we're just not going to be as successful.Bill Morneau

The #MeToo movement, which has arrived on Parliament Hill in recent weeks, also gets a timely mention as the budget promises $34.9 million over five years, plus $7.4 million thereafter, to support its proposed legislation to crack down on harassment in federally regulated workplaces.

This budget, for the first time in Canadian history, also went through a full gender-based analysis, which involved thinking about how every single measure would impact men and women in different ways, while taking other factors such as age, ethnicity, income and disability into account.

The Liberals are also promising legislation that would enshrine gender-based analysis in the budget-making process, forcing themselves — and, technically, future governments — to repeat the exercise every year and continue tracking their progress on equality.

No additional funds for child care

Throughout the budget, the Liberals also declared a goal of getting better at collecting the data required to do a deeper dive.

There was no additional money for child care this year however, although the Liberals feel they dealt with that in the previous budget: $7.5 billion over 11 years for bilateral deals with the provinces and territories, which disappointed many stakeholders calling for a universal program.

Economist Armine Yalnizyan said that since the wages of women of child-bearing age reached a plateau a decade ago, bigger investments in child care spaces would likely have the biggest impact on the stated goal of increasing the participation of women in the workforce.

"It's really frustrating that they want women to help with economic growth, but they won't help women — this year,'' Yalnizyan said.

That overarching theme of gender equality aside, the budget is also a smattering of smaller measures.

Sean Kilpatrick/CANADIAN PRESS
Finance Minister Bill Morneau is congratulated by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau after delivering the federal budget in the House of Commons in Ottawa on Feb. 27, 2018.

The long, scattershot list near the back of the 367-page document includes things like expanding the tax credit for service dogs to help people with post-traumatic stress disorder and a national hotline to crack down on human trafficking.

Still, other themes emerge, including major investments in science, the environment and reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples, which are all areas Trudeau's government sees as part of its progressive vision for the country and the world.

It also allows the Liberals to continue telling a story that sets them up in contrast to the Conservatives.

That includes $3.2 billion over five years for investing in Canadian scientists and researchers, as well as $1.3 billion over five years to help Canada meet a United Nations commitment to protect at least 17 per cent of its land and inland waters by 2020.

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The budget also announced the creation of an advisory council — to be chaired by Dr. Eric Hoskins, who resigned Monday as Ontario health minister — to begin exploring options for a national pharmacare plan.

That will be one way for Trudeau to try to outflank NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, who has made bringing Canadians universal access to affordable prescription drugs a top priority.

Singh, who dismissed the Liberal vision for pharmacare as incomplete, said he welcomed the company, and the challenge.

"Please, take our idea,'' Singh said.

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