2015 budget holds few surprises; a litany of lost opportunities

OTTAWA – Finance Minister Joe Oliver’s first and last budget represents a hodge-podge of election promises, rather than a coherent, prudent plan for Canada’s future economic and social health.

“It all comes down to priorities,” noted Elizabeth May, Leader of the Green Party of Canada and Member of Parliament for Saanich-Gulf Islands. “The Harper administration is set to spend more money on the celebrations of Canada’s 150th birthday than on the crisis of First Nations education. It is remarkable that in a budget tabled seven months before the negotiation deadline for a comprehensive climate treaty, the words ‘climate change’ are nowhere even mentioned.

Elizabeth May continued, “Having put all their eggs in the bitumen basket for so long, the Harper administration reacted to low oil prices like a bunny in the headlights – delaying the budget by months, while ignoring economic opportunities. In the Green Party’s pre-budget submission, we had urged the minister to move quickly to provide needed boosts for those sectors of our economy that benefit from the low dollar – specifically tourism, film and television production, and manufacturing. While the budget acknowledges that tourism is a significant sector of our economy, no funding is committed. It was this prime minister who cancelled all advertising in the U.S. market to promote Canada as a tourism destination, yet we have missed the chance to boost our visibility as a destination in advance of the 2015 summer season.”

Deputy Leader Bruce Hyer, Member of Parliament for Thunder Bay-Superior North, expressed disappointment that there is lots of money for the war in Syria, cyber-snooping on Canadian citizens, more subsidies for Big Oil, carmakers and Atlantic fisheries, but nothing for the forestry and tourism industries in northern Ontario.

Green Finance Critic Ken Melamed, candidate in West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea-to-Sky-Country, commented, “What is curious about this budget is the amount of text devoted to departments and programmes that receive no new funding. With two pages on Parks Canada, it was surprising to find no funding announced; ditto for credit unions, digital infrastructure, consumer protection framework for banks, and mental health. Meanwhile, much of the new funding, such as for municipal infrastructure, is not slated to even begin for another two years. Budget commitments starting in 2017 are a bit rich from a government on the eve of an election.

Mr. Melamed continued, “This budget’s forecasting uses rose-coloured glasses anticipating a growth rate consistently higher than that set out in the most recent Parliamentary Budget Officer’s report, further compromising spending set to begin in 2017.”

Funding pledges set to begin in the 2017-2018 fiscal year include: public transit, enhanced funding for Department of National Defence, and increased funding for the Canadian Foundation for Innovation.

“Meanwhile, the Harper administration has continued its largesse to polluting industries, like oil sands and nuclear energy,” said Daniel Green, Deputy Leader of the Green Party of Canada. “Violating the prime minister’s own pledge to the G-20 to stop subsidizing fossil fuels, the 2015 budget opens up a whole new category of accelerated tax write offs to promote fracking and LNG. To compensate the fast tracking of fossil fuel projects they’ve enhanced funding for the National Energy Board and Canadian Energy Assessment Act, so they can conduct pipeline and fossil fuel project reviews. It is as if the Harper administration knows there will be more spills with increased development projects.”

Deborah Coyne, Senior Policy Advisor to Ms. May, noted that a whole series of measures are destined to be meaningless without clear federal leadership to ensure coordinated action with the provinces. For example, much more effective federal leadership is needed to eliminate internal barriers to trade than the creation of an Internal Trade Promotion Office within Industry Canada to only ‘support’ a long-overdue review of the cumbersome and ineffective Agreement on Internal Trade (AIT) that dates back to 1995. The same lack of critical federal initiative with the provinces is evident in the lacklustre reference to harmonizing training and certificate requirements.”

“In our federation, it makes no sense to throw money to trades and apprenticeships without Ottawa working actively with the provinces and territories to develop a rational national approach. This also applies to providing money to immigrants for the foreign credential recognition process without ensuring provincial harmonization. The same can be said of the changes to the Workers Income Tax Benefit where provincial engagement is critical to ensure that the WITB works smoothly with access to provincial benefits and services. And finally, a $2 million announcement for a consultation on Autism Spectrum Disorder– without the Minister of Health taking the lead in working with the provinces and the territories to strengthen national standards in health care-is laughable.”