When Budget 2019 was tabled late last month, the opposition Conservatives used that time to continue rehashing the SNC-Lavalin affair; an opportunity lost for the party and for Canadians.
On March 19, Finance Minister Bill Morneau announced the budget in the House of Commons to a sea of cat-calls, which eventually subsided after the Speaker of the House wisely cut-off the microphones of members of the Conservative caucus.
The finance minister was able to give his budget address, and to no one’s surprise, Central Nova MP Sean Fraser had nothing but praise.
Pointing out that the economy has been “thriving” over the past few years – with over 940,000 new jobs created since the Liberals took office, and 7,500 new jobs created in Nova Scotia alone in January and February – Fraser noted that the unemployment rate is at its lowest point since the statistic was first recorded more than 40 years ago.
When asked whether posting budget deficits will impede the Liberals’ ability to fulfill their promises, Fraser said his government’s investments are creating economic growth faster than the debt is growing. He also noted that the deficit is decreasing each year.
The Central Nova MP said the Liberals have followed through on promises to build infrastructure, which create jobs in the short term and provide communities the assets they need to grow.
On the issue of connectivity, Fraser was happy to hear of his government’s commitments to connect 95 per cent of Canadians by 2026 and 100 per cent by 2030, no matter where they live.
In healthcare, Fraser was enthusiastic about some of the solutions offered by the federal government, specifically the allocation of $150 million to support the Terry Fox Foundation’s cancer research, a further investment in a national pharmacare program to bring down the cost of prescription drugs, introducing a national dementia strategy, and focusing on mental health with a new suicide prevention program.
Fraser also noted that the budget offers “significant benefits” for seniors and young people. Seniors will be able to keep more of the money they earn in retirement, the Canada Pension plan is going to enroll more seniors, and a change in legislation will protect pensions even when a company fails, according to Fraser.
For young people, Fraser said the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations is in support of the government’s commitment to make the cost of post-secondary education more affordable, by lowering the interest rate on student loans and creating more employment opportunities for young people through the Youth Employment Strategy and the Student Work Placement Program.
The Liberal MP pointed out that the budget included “serious” investments encouraging young people to get involved in the skilled trades, providing financial support for people who take time away from work to upgrade their skills or qualifications, and “serious money” behind the tourism and forestry sectors, as well as support for entrepreneurs.
Rather than speak to the specifics of the budget, it was disappointing that Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer used this time to accuse the governing Liberals of trying to cover up the SNC-Lavalin controversy. Scheer said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is “covering up his corruption under $41 billion of brand new spending paid for by tax hikes.” Scheer said it is “obvious” that “massive tax hikes” will pay for this spending after the election.
Scheer said the Conservatives will continue to oppose the government and will continue calling for former Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould, as well as the former head of the Treasury Board, Jane Philpott, to speak. After the budget was tabled, the Conservatives continued to filibuster to prevent passage of the budget bill.
Rather than engaging in political games, to their credit, the federal New Democratic Party actually discussed the budget, as well as issues relevant to the annual fiscal update and forecast.
The NDP said the budget continues massive give-aways to big corporations while people are struggling to make ends meet. The NDP said Trudeau’s Liberals had a golden opportunity to repair the damage of decades of Conservative and Liberal cuts to services, but missed the mark.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said the budget shows “how disconnected Trudeau’s Liberals are,” because it shows no sense of urgency on skyrocketing housing costs, unaffordable childcare, expensive prescription drug costs, and senior poverty rates.
The New Democrats said the wealthiest corporations have had it too good for too long and Canadians need a government that secures affordable housing, implements single-payer universal public pharmacare, improves healthcare for everyone, and makes sure post-secondary education is not a debt sentence.
The NDP said Canadians deserve more than a government relying on the good faith of corporations to protect their pensions and Indigenous communities deserve more than a government that refuses to tackle the housing crisis on-reserve. They said the Liberals’ habit of giving special treatment to Web giants and rich corporations is hurting Canadians, and there is a need to make child care, medication, housing, and post-secondary education affordable for all.
It was good that at least one of the major opposition parties took the time to address the budget, rather than trying to score cheap political points with transparent stunts.
Aside from the ineffective tactics of the Conservatives in the house, the fact they didn’t bother to discuss or debate any specifics of Budget 2019, but instead opted to make baseless claims of climbing deficits and tax hikes – without offering proof of either contention – was also disappointing.
This was an opportunity for the Conservatives to really let the government have it for continuing to post deficits, for not cutting taxes, and for not being fiscally responsible with the public purse, but they decided to adopt the same pointless manoeuvers employed by the Republicans in the United States.
Like the GOP, this stunt was all sound and fury, signifying nothing and saying even less.
Canadians deserve better from its official opposition, especially at budget time.