Why does it seem like other countries, such as the US, are moving faster than Canada with a vision for the future after the COVID-19 pandemic? Why isn’t the government laser-focused on rebuilding in a way that ensures we are ready in the event of another pandemic? We do not want to go through this again.The federal budget, tabled last Monday, seemed to be missing some integral pieces to get the country back to a place of safety, security and stability. Canadians want to be reunited and return to that feeling of togetherness that has been missing over the past 13 months.
The Liberal government laid out billions of dollars in new spending after over two years without a federal budget. While many of the government’s recent pledges graced its pages, others were notably absent. It’s possible that some policies were pushed out of reach as COVID-19 variants have sent a third wave hurtling through Canada. This forced the government to refocus its priorities onto more immediate relief measures.
As unprecedented as the dollar amounts are in the budget, including historic investments in childcare and the environment, there were a few key Liberal spending initiatives not included.
Provincial Health Transfers
The premiers, although receiving added support from the federal government throughout the pandemic, wanted to see an increase in health transfers. All premiers agreed to this request, but that ask went unanswered. The budget reiterated the announcement from last month, when the federal government proposed to provide provinces and territories with a $4 billion, one-time top-up to the Canada Health Transfer.
It does not, however, lay out any long-term increases to the transfers. The $4-billion figure also fell short of what the provinces called for. The premiers repeatedly demanded that the annual transfer be increased by at least $28 billion a year, permanently.
The Bloc Quebecois have consistently brought this demand to the House of Commons. In a March 3rd press conference, Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet said his party would not back the budget without health transfer increases — making the missing budget measure a potential poison pill for the party’s support. The Bloc’s conditions for supporting the budget were “well-known, and they have been for a long time,” said Blanchet during the press conference. He added that the increase had to be without conditions in the health transfers.
Another promise that has been in numerous budgets and fall economic statements is pharmacare. Where is the vision for how this important piece of social policy is going to be built and executed? There were no new dollars in the budget for pharmacare, a pledge that the Liberal government has referenced since the 2019 budget. This left the budget lacking in any significant new strides towards universal pharmacare. That’s a move that may alienate NDP support, even though Jagmeet Singh has said the NDP will not bring down the government on the budget bill.
Universal Basic Income
The budget also turned its back on the overwhelming endorsement of a Universal Basic Income (UBI) that emerged from the Liberal policy convention in early April. At the party’s virtual convention just over a week ago, the resolution — co-sponsored by the Liberal caucus — passed by a vote 491-85.
What Does it all Mean?
Perhaps this means that the Liberals are keeping some priorities close to their chest. They do have to prepare a compelling electoral platform after all. This approach could buy them more time to think about some of these wedge issues. They can then start to weave them into a narrative of building back better with a strong platform that could propel them into an election.
At the risk of sounding pessimistic, there was no proper plan for growth in the budget’s 700+ pages. Canadians are looking for a plan so they can be confident that things are going to get better and the government can actually get us there. It’s understandable that the government still considers the country to be in crisis. But for its first budget in two years, there was a lack of vision, a lack of innovation and a lack of key Liberal spending priorities to bring the country back from the brink.