Civil society cautiously optimistic of federal budget

Civil society groups are welcoming federal budget with cautious optimism while insisting that more needs to be done to undo damage from Former Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s decade in power.

“This budget provides something that’s been missing for a long time: a real response to poverty and inequality,” says CCPA Senior Economist David Macdonald. “Today’s changes to the Canada Child Benefit and Guaranteed Income Supplement will have a big impact on reducing poverty for children and seniors.”

“This budget is a step in the right direction for our economy, particularly the Employment Insurance improvements, which will make a big difference for unemployed Canadians, and help stimulate the local economies that need it most right now,” Canadian Labour Congress President Hassan Yussuff said. “Yussuff also highlighted the government’s infrastructure commitments: “I’m pleased to see significant funding for public transit, affordable housing, social infrastructure and green infrastructure. We can look forward to this creating jobs and helping to build communities across Canada.”

“Harper steadily shrank the federal government to the smallest it has been as a share of the economy since the mid-1940s,” The Canadian Union of Public Employees stated in its response to the budget. “Trudeau’s first budget changes that direction and in fact changes the 35 year-long trend—since the early 1980s—of shrinking federal government.”

“I applaud the federal government for their efforts to make postsecondary education more affordable, and for the strategic investments that will unlock the potential in our students, faculty and applied research activities,” said Cheryl Jensen, President, Algonquin College. “Investments in infrastructure and postsecondary research are really an investment in our learners, and through education they will prosper and develop the skills they need for today’s innovation economy.”

But civil society groups also pointed out that the federal government should do more to tackle slow growth and high unemployment.

“The Liberals are spending in the right places, but the amounts aren’t up to the task. The deficit is too small to really tackle Canada’s biggest economic challenges: unemployment and slow growth,” Macdonald sad. “It’s important to remember that every deficit creates a surplus elsewhere in the economy. Every billion dollars in federal deficit means an extra billion in the pockets of Canadians through new transfers or higher wages, extra money for the provinces, and extra opportunities for businesses.”

CCPA noted that the projected deficit of just over $29 billion for both of the next two years—amounting to at most 1.5% of GDP—is relatively smaller than any federal deficit run between 1974 and 1996 and federal government spending as a share of the economy remains at near-historic lows.

In terms of skills training and workforce development, Yussuff noted that the budget contained promising measures, but fell significantly short of what was promised in the government’s election platform.

“It’s no surprise that many Canadians feel they are worse off than their parents were at the same age—and that they feel the next generation will do worse than their own,” Finance Minister Bill Morneau said in his maiden budget speech. “A fundamental change must happen: Canadians need to believe that hope and hard work will be rewarded again.”