The Liberal budget delivered on some promises while breaking others

On Monday, April 4th, 2016 in Articles by Elizabeth, Island Tides
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Analyzing the new Liberal budget for Canada is difficult.  It is so deeply disappointing, yet compared to any budget in the last ten years it represents a huge improvement.  So the key question in deciding whether it gets a passing grade is to determine against what standard it is measured.  Do we compare it to the regressive budgets of the last ten years or to the last Liberal budget of 2005 – which had measures for climate, child care and the Kelowna Accord?  Or do we measure it against the Liberal 2015 campaign promises?

The clearest commitment and strongest funding was delivered for First Nations, Inuit, and Metis communities.  At $8.4 billion, it was “historic” as the Minister claimed.  Whether it is enough is another matter, but it was significantly more than the 2005 Kelowna Accord (killed by the Conservatives) had promised.

The 2016 budget contains many encouraging measures for health, education, youth, waste and water works, and public infrastructure. Many of my requests to Finance Minister Bill Morneau have been accepted – including energy retrofits to existing social housing, support for affordable rental housing, re-opening the Coast Guard base at Kitsilano, restoring funding to the CBC, additional $50 million to Sustainable Development Technology Canada, reinstating the Court Challenges Programme, investing in science and returning support for basic scientific research, and action to reduce the burden of student loans and increasing student grants.

But there is so little in the climate action part of the budget.  $3.4 billion over three years for public transit may sound like a lot, but one billion dollars is not enough in a year to make a dent in the infrastructure deficit for a single city. In a budget premised on creating economic stimulus and employment, it made no sense to neglect the opportunity for energy efficiency improvements in Canada’s buildings. Leaky buildings are responsible for 30% of Canada’s GHG.  Employing carpenters, electricians, contractors, and plumbers to retrofit homes, commercial buildings and institutions would deliver immediate economic benefits in creating jobs, while cutting GHG.  Other than retrofits to social housing, it is ignored.  In contrast, the 2005 budget of former Finance Minister Ralph Goodale was much stronger on climate action. It included Eco-Energy retrofits for home owners, rebates for the purchase of hybrid vehicles (which should have been reinstated and extended to electric vehicles), as well as billions more for infrastructure and funding for provinces to meet GHG reductions.

Disturbingly, the budget cites the target of the Paris Agreement as avoiding 2 degrees global average temperature increase, when it was Canadian leadership that helped drive the world to the more ambitious goal of striving to hold temperature to no more than 1.5 degrees C.   The Liberal platform promised carbon pricing which, in fairness, we did not expect to see in this budget.  It is clear that the negotiations with the premiers on carbon pricing will run their course before we see a clear federal plan for pricing carbon. But the Liberal platform also promised to phase out subsidies to fossil fuel, reducing them by $125 million in 2017-18.  Instead, no changes have been made to fossil fuel subsidies and the subsidies to LNG are specifically continued until the end of 2024.

As well, although described as “Restoring Trust in Environmental Assessment,” this budget preserves the devastating changes to environmental assessment of the 2012 omnibus budget bill C-38.  Rather than repeal C-38’s gutting of environmental assessment (EA), the budget commits to four years’ worth of funding for the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency for “fulfilling its responsibilities” under the C-38 version of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act.   It also provides funding for what was announced last month as “interim measures” to cope with the broken process under C-38’s environmental review.  But the funding to the National Energy Board for “interim measures” is to last for three years, suggesting they are permanent.  The National Energy Board should not be conducting a single EA that has not already commenced during the previous government.  No new projects should start the EA process under the wrong act, conducted by the wrong agency.  Not for three months more, much less three years.

Do we now declare the Liberals have deliberately broken promises and turned their back on the environment? The rubber stamping just days before Budget Day of the weak environmental assessment of Woodfibre LNG (one conducted under the bogus C-38 version of EA and delegated to the province of BC) might lead some to do so.  And as leader of an opposition party, political culture would expect me to be among the first to denounce them.  But I do not.  Not yet.

Mitigating factors include the budget preparation process. The Minister of Environment never saw the budget before its big reveal on March 22.  The budget was reviewed by the Deputy Minister of Environment Canada. He is well-remembered by climate activists as the lead negotiator blocking action in Copenhagen.  Is it an accident that the 2 degree target, accepted by the Conservatives, is in the budget and not the 1.5 degree target championed by the new government?  Senior civil servants are to follow the direction set by political masters.  It would be a major breach of respect for that tradition for me to suggest any particular civil servant is working against the new government’s interests.  But it is widely acknowledged around Parliament Hill that senior bureaucrats across many departments are having trouble re-orienting to very different priorities.  The mandate letters from the PM to ministers instruct them to respect the advice of the professional civil service.  In respect of the traditional separation between the civil service and the political side of government, which Prime Minister Trudeau is working to restore, there has been no sacking of the old order to bring in the new.  Highly principled, but it does prolong what could charitably be described as inertia in the system.

So, my advice to those frustrated by the failure to reverse the damage inflicted by the Conservatives is “do not despair.”  Do not write off the new government. Instead, redouble efforts to hold them accountable.  Condemn broken promises, but hold out the hope the errors of this budget will be corrected by Budget 2017.

Originally published in Island Tides.

 

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  • Dorothy Turcotte

    While I agree that there is much lacking, I am also delighted that the new government has made strides in some directions too. I want to see electoral reform, but I’m willing to wait a while so that some of these other vacuums can be filled. What a relief it is to have a government that cares about Canadians.

  • Andy Reddekop

    Clearly and dispassionately said, Elizabeth. As you set out in your preamble, it is difficult to know just how to to critique this document and subsequent government actions. In my opinion, you have struck the right tone: recognize success and progress relative to our lost decade but focus a lens on missed opportunities and on unmet commitments. Thank you for doing exactly that and for modeling an Opposition approach which the NDP would do well to emulate.

  • Leslie Stanick

    I so appreciate Elizabeth May’s perspectives. I strongly encourage people to write to the PM and his ministers to hold them to task. People can write and express their deep disappointment at the forging ahead with LNG. Why not.. If we say nothing, it is accepting the status quo. The NEB should not be given continuing powers to push through the expansion of the Kinder Morgan pipeline. We know just one spill could devastate the whole harbour and up Indian Arm, and spread into important whale habitat in the Salish Sea. There is more to our economy than fossil fuels: let’s support our fisheries, tourism, the people who live here every day, the Musqueam and other First Nations who would have to live with the consequences of oil spills and gas leaks. Let’s help the Trudeau government make the choices that are good for our ecosystems and planet, and urge them to stick to the 1.5 degree temperature change they campaigned on.

  • FWilliams

    A fair and balanced review from Elizabeth May, and a good start from the Liberals with their first budget. What a change in just 6 months! Maybe, if we all work together, we can do some good.

  • Ian MacKenzie

    Elizabeth – You’re letting the Liberals off far too lightly! Just because you may like Justin personally is not justification for accepting his incompetent handling of the NEB promises he made, his lack of movement on revising the horrific environmental omnibus bills still in effect, his apparent concern for a right leaning civil service, the continued subsidies to the fossilizing industry, his excessive worry about taking the bull by the horns and possibly underlining some divisions in the national conversation about a transitional energy policy (read Brad Wall and Christy Clark), as well as many more issues you mention. We can’t afford to let his pretty face and personality pass for a driven and committed PM! The honeymoon’s over for me. He’s got lots of help back there. He just has to point some direction. Let’s see action, not empty promises and excuses! I’m really concerned he’s going to do a good job of riding the environmental fence for as long as we’ll allow him to, despite his promises at COP 21.

  • s

    There are promises made in public to the people and there are promises made in private to the “Lobbyists” or “courtiers??”. Was it a coincident that a very important member of Trudeau election campaign team was/is connected with the Oil Industry.
    His formal resignation does not alter the reality.that right wing arm of the Liberal Party is still alive and kicking. Would they still support Trudeau’s
    agenda now that he has done his job in reviving the Party from the dead.

    • Le Franco Nord Américain

      Touché! It was DEFINITELY NOT a coincidence that a very important member of Trudeau election campaign team was an Oil Industry lobbyist. I voted Liberal, not so much because I wanted the Liberals, but rather because I wanted Harper out and the Liberal alternative in my riding was the best choice as accomplishing such. My fear when it came to Trudeau was that by clearly staying away from promising to increase corporate tax rates the Liberals were afraid to take on the Corporate powers that wield so much of the backroom influence and power that really pulls the strings of both our Liberal and Conservative élites. I however liked to believe this wasn’t the case given the campaign promise to phase out subsidies to fossil fuel, and to begin doing so by $125 million in 2017-18. That this is not the case has me VERY concerned. I am giving them the benefit of the doubt. My concern that I might in fact have been duped will be answered when we find out if the Trudeau Liberals ratify the TPP. If they do, we can dump any ideas of any meaningful transition on the eco-energy front.
      It will tell me that, with the Conservatives to the far right, the Liberals have simply become, at best, the brand of Progressive Conservatives we knew under Mulroney: …power hungry minions who believe THE INTERESTS OF THE CANADIAN PEOPLE ARE BEST SERVED BY WAY OF DOING WHAT IS IN THE BEST INTEREST OF THE MULTI-NATIONAL CORPORATIONS: Profits before People with the Economy trumping Ecology. I`m worried but join Elizabeth in giving them the benefit of the doubt for the time being. We can’t afford to remain part of an unsustainable system. Maybe Chris Hedges is right re: the moral imperative that is before us.

  • s

    When challenging Trudeau, consider yourself challenging the right wing insiders of his Party.
    Imagine this thriller story: In a way, foreign governments may show more respect for Trudeau as he has the power of the entire country behind him. When it comes to fights within the Liberal Party, Trudeau cannot call on his government resources, unless he is prepared to lose the next election from a thousand cuts from insiders’ sabotage.

  • Le Franco Nord Américain

    I share Elizabeth`s concerns and her conclusion that it is too soon to denounce Trudeau. That said I am “ concerned he’s going to do ride the environmental fence for as long as we’ll allow him to, despite his promises at COP 21.“ A committed GREEN, I voted Liberal at the advance poll, because I wanted Harper out and the Liberal choice in my riding was the best placed to accomplish such. I winced when a week later we found out that a KEY member of Trudeau;s election campaign team was an Oil Industry lobbyist who was also busy advising the oil industry on how to lobby the `future` gov`t. My fear when it came to Trudeau was that by clearly staying away from promising to increase corporate tax rates the Liberals were afraid to take on the Corporate powers that wield so much of the backroom influence that too often set the direction of both our Liberal and Conservative élites. I however liked to believe this wasn’t the case. That he was prepared to take them on, as is definitely needed to see us transition to a sustainable eco-energy based economy. I took comfort in his campaign promise to phase out subsidies to fossil fuel, and to begin doing so by $125 million in 2017-18. That this is not the case has me VERY concerned. Whether I might in fact have been duped in believing the rhetoric on the importance the Liberals placed on the Global Warming will be answered when we find out if the Trudeau Liberals ratify the TPP. If they do, I was taken. And we can dump any ideas of any meaningful transition on the eco-energy front. It will tell me that, with the Conservatives to the far right, the Liberals have simply become, at best, the brand of (Progressive) Conservatives we knew under Mulroney: …power hungry minions who believe THE INTERESTS OF THE CANADIAN PEOPLE ARE BEST SERVED BY WAY OF DOING WHAT IS IN THE BEST INTEREST OF THE MULTI-NATIONAL CORPORATIONS: Profits before People with the Economy trumping Ecology. I`m worried but join Elizabeth in giving the Liberals the benefit of the doubt for the time being. While I appreciate Elizabeth`s comments that ” this budget preserves the devastating changes to environmental assessment of the 2012 omnibus budget bill C-38”, if we are truly against Omnibus Budget Bills NOT being the vehicle thru which to make EA changes, let`s not ask the Liberals to also make needed EA changes by way of a Budget Bill. The EA changes needed need to be done right and they have to be the right changes; not simply a change back to what was.

  • D Jackson

    It will be very difficult for the federal government to meet any GHG promises when the western provinces are chomping at the bit to either resume or expand extraction of existing fossil fuel resources, carbon tax or not. Couple those culprits with the biggest threat that China can offer, trying to bribe the feds with trade deals based upon pipeline approvals to the west coast and you have a irresistible (for government) recipe for a piece of greedy pie. I’m not surprised by the actions, or lack thereof from those in leadership positions in government, after all, look who we have placed in office. The damage the Harper regime inflicted on this country will continue and pale in comparison to the long term sell off of Canada to corporate raiders via trade deals like the TPPA and its investor-state dispute settlement mechanism. Canada is the most sued country under the NAFTA agreement. More liberal treason to follow?

    Oh Canada, I don’t recognize you this day, where have all the good men and women gone, don’t you care to stay?

    Why do we stand by to be bullied by those we place in office, have we no desire and just accept our losses?

    When is the time to defend this land, next week, next month or never? apathy is our enemy and the tool of our tormentor.

    Wake up, wake up it’s time we join together, for if we don’t the politicos will run roughshod on us forever.

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