Who the federal budget leaves out

Posted on April 23, 2015 in Governance Debates

TheStar.com – Opinion/Commentary – The budget, like its predecessors, doesn’t even pretend to address the fundamental issue of inequality.
Apr 21 2015.   By: John Baglow

What would the “ordinary Canadian” have wanted to see in the 2015 federal budget?

A good question. That elusive being is seldom consulted on such matters, certainly not by the Harper government.

We are blessed, however, with economists, think-tanks and crystal-ball-gazers aplenty. Instead of what is good for that “ordinary Canadian,” we are urged to consider what is good for the “economy.” One imagines a creature chained to a stake somewhere, while various teams of zookeepers fight over its diet, cleaning and exercise.

Except, of course, that the “economy” is, and has always been, at large.

Margaret Thatcher famously said (her words usually taken somewhat out of context) that there is “no such thing as society.” One might be equally skeptical about the “economy,” a term used to justify almost every action and reaction by the government of the day.

Swept by global currents, our politicians tread water, trying to give the impression that they are in full control. In fact, they’re in charge of the economy about as much as the early English King Canute was in charge of the tides.

Canute, seated at the sea’s edge, was making a witty point to flattering courtiers, showing he could do nothing at all to prevent the waters from rising. One might well gain the impression, however, that our present rulers are responsible for making the waters ebb and flow.

Take that Economic Action Plan. We taxpayers have forked over well above $100 million just for ads touting the wing of bat and eye of newt that were supposed to work their magic for us and, of course, for the Harper administration as well. But the economy is presently on a serious downturn, largely thanks to the recent precipitous drop in the price of oil, and in the value of our loonie.

We shouldn’t blame Harper for all that, of course, even if his emphasis on oilsands development has made us somewhat vulnerable to this sort of thing. But let’s be consistent. Why should he then reap unqualified praise when the economy is doing well?

Not that our leaders are completely helpless, of course. Within limits, they can moderate the harmful effects of downturns, if they so choose. The question really becomes, whose harm should they address?

That’s what these federal budgets are all about. They aren’t mere balance-sheets, but a statement of values and priorities. And here there are real choices to be made.

Reflecting those conflicting moral options, some think-tanks have demanded low corporate taxes, to improve profit margins and encourage investment. Others, currently being audited by the Canada Revenue Agency, want taxes to rise, to pay for quality public services like food inspection and post-Lac-Mégantic rail safety and a national child care program and the increased demands upon medicare and Canada Pension Plan reform.

It’s fair to say that this government has chosen its path, and it’s not one leading to the door of that “ordinary Canadian.” The new budget maintains that direction.

It’s a pre-election document, with the flash and dazzle of deficit elimination. But to accomplish that, the government announced spending that won’t come fully into force for years, and also made off with two-thirds of the contingency fund — intended for real national emergencies, not political manoeuvring.

The much-ballyhooed family income-splitting measure, already making its way through Parliament, stands to benefit the very richest 15 per cent of Canadian families. Now the Tax Free Savings Account will have the maximum contribution nearly doubled, to $10,000 per year — once again disproportionately benefiting the well-to-do who can afford such contributions, while costing the government billions in revenue losses.

Under Prime Minister Stephen Harper, we’ve seen fewer unemployed workers than ever before able to qualify for employment insurance benefits. There is nothing in the budget to remedy this, and no serious job-creation measures to ease unemployment.

Given the current poor health of the economy, the burden of inequality continues to be borne by those Canadians least able to withstand it. The budget, like its predecessors, doesn’t even pretend to address that fundamental issue. The “ordinary Canadian,” once again, has been left on the sidelines. Nothing new here: move along.

John Baglow is an Ottawa writer, researcher and consultant.

< http://www.thestar.com/opinion/commentary/2015/04/21/who-the-federal-budget-leaves-out.html >

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