From health care to pharmacare to housing, federal budget fails Canadians

Posted on April 10, 2022 in Governance Policy Context

Source: — Authors: – Business/Opinion
April 9, 2022.   By David Olive, Star Business Columnist

We’ve given these Liberals three governing mandates. Seven years later, we’re still waiting for our rebuilt country, David Olive writes.

The Trudeau government had a chance to present a social justice budget this week but chose not to.

And this was the time to do it.

The pandemic exposed intolerable deficiencies in our overstressed hospital sector.

And it highlighted egregious conditions in long-term care, where the largest number of COVID-19-related deaths occurred.

Yet the federal budget presented by Chrystia Freeland, the federal finance minister, on Thursday, makes only incremental progress on those crucial needs.

In contrast to that inaction is a Canadian economy growing so powerfully that it can absorb the cost of, for instance, a total rebuild of the country’s long-term-care sector.

But this budget ignores the reasonable requests of provinces and territories for badly needed additional health-funding transfers from Ottawa.

Nor does it provide sufficiently for a more rapid credentialing of immigrants to move quickly into their professions and trades, including nurses and personal support workers (PSWs).

If ever those needs should be a priority, it is now, in the midst of an unprecedented labour shortage and record immigration flows.

Instead of health care, the signature item in this budget is housing. As if this G7 country can’t work to solve more than one crisis at a time.

And the budget’s commitments to more housing are underwhelming.

Recall that the centrepiece of last year’s federal budget was a national daycare system. In just under a year, the Trudeau government has begun to deliver on that promise, signing up the remaining holdout province, Ontario, last month.

The new daycare system, with its phased reduction in fees to $10 a day, will empower hundreds of thousands of parents to enter the paid workforce, raising household incomes and easing the labour shortage.

But by sharp contrast, this budget’s housing initiative shows a casual approach to another of our biggest problems.

Ostensibly, the $10.2 billion over five years in this budget’s outlays for housing are meant to double the country’s housing supply over 10 years.

The budget measure is expected to stimulate the market to produce about 100,000 homes by 2027.

That won’t go far to solving the problem. Ontario alone is estimated to need about one million new homes over the next decade.

And the housing crisis is not unfolding over the next five years, to 2027.

It is now.

The housing shortage is nationwide among small towns, cottage country and big cities alike. It is contributing to our 30-year-high rate of inflation, and to climate change with its longer commutes.

The already acute housing shortage will worsen before it improves, given those record-high and much-needed immigration flows noted above.

On another front, only under pressure from the NDP, with which the Liberals have formed a governing alliance, does the budget make a nod to denticare.

But half measures are the rule here, too.

This budget provides $5.3 billion over several years for dental coverage for children, to start, and later for seniors and people suffering with disabilities.

But truly universal dental coverage is not even on the horizon for this government, though it has long been an integral part of Britain’s medicare scheme, the National Health Service (NHS).

Ahead of this budget, it was expected that, again under NDP pressure, there would be a substantive plan unveiled in the budget to achieve universal pharmacare.

Instead, the budget provides only what amounts to a statement of intent on starting to examine a possible pharmacare scheme in 2023, kicking the can down the road another year.

Pharmacare is an economic justice measure the Liberals seriously considered in the late 2010s, but then abandoned at the onset of the pandemic.

And apparently not to return to it anytime soon, though many Canadians struggle to pay for the medications they have been prescribed.

In many ways, this failed budget looks like gesture politics, the act of appearing to care but doing little of substance.

Again, Canada can afford to do better for its people. The Canadian economy is indeed “booming,” as Freeland said Thursday.

The Parliamentary Budget Office (PBO) expects GDP to hit $2.8 trillion next year, about 18 higher than Ottawa forecast in December.

Meanwhile, the robust economy, curtailing of pandemic expenses, and high prices for oil and other commodities are expected to boost government revenues beyond their targeted amounts for several years, amounting to an estimated windfall of about $90 billion.

Using conservative estimates, Ottawa is projecting a sharp drop in the federal deficit from last year’s $113.8 billion to $8.4 billion just five years from now.

The one time that Justin Trudeau’s Liberals won a majority, in 2015, they did so on a promise to run modest deficits if that’s what it took to rebuild the country.

We’ve given these Liberals three governing mandates.

Seven years later, we’re still waiting for our rebuilt country.

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