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Groups raise concerns about federal budget 2017

By Deborah Gyapong
Canadian Catholic News


OTTAWA (CCN) — Two think-tanks dedicated to Christian social teaching have raised concerns about 2017 federal budget, especially on the new $7 billion promised for new childcare spaces.

For Citizens for Public Justice (CPJ), the budget’s promise to invest this money over 10 years beginning in 2018-19 is welcome support for families, especially indigenous families who will be included in this funding envelope. But overall, the budget gets tepid reviews.

“With budget 2017, Finance Minister Bill Morneau has made tentative financial commitments to key priorities identified in their consultations on housing and climate change, though not on international development,” said CPJ executive director Joe Gunn. “However, the government’s spending priorities fail to understand the depth of the problems of poverty in Canada, climate change, and the concerns of refugees and newcomers — leaving them for our children to resolve.”

For Cardus, the promised daycare subsidy is not consistent with their research into what parents say they want or need. Nor is it in the best interests of young children.

“When subsidies go to childcare spaces or centres, rather than directly to parents, these act as a form of soft coercion,” said Andrea Mrozek, program director for Cardus Family. “Rather than expanding options that increase the good for particular families, the government paints families into a corner by favouring one particular option.”

Both CPJ and Cardus are on record praising the Canada Child Care Benefit that committed $22 billion to lower income Canadian families in last year’s budget and put money directly into the pockets of the families.

Mrozek pointed out the liberals did not campaign on the $7 billion childcare investment. She cited a February 2017 report by the Advisory Council on Economic Growth that identified groups that need to be targeted for greater labour force participation that may reveal the thinking underlying the government’s approach. Among the identified demographic groups the report identifies are indigenous peoples and mothers of young children.

Cardus points out the 2017 budget is designed to increase “labour force participation in these demographics in order to increase the GDP.”

“In short, this ‘child care measure’ is about getting parents of young children — the time when children need their parents most — into the paid labour force,” said Cardus. Yet this move is contrary to what research shows parents want.

“When surveyed, seven in 10 Canadian parents of children under six say having one parent at home to care for their child is the best option when contrasted with a competent caregiver.”

The focus on labour force participation to increase GDP signals the approach the Liberal government is taking toward deficits. The projected budget deficit for 2017/2018 has ballooned to $28.5 billion, from $23 billion last year, and is nearly triple the $10 billion a year for three years in deficits the Liberals had campaigned on to invest in the economy, kick start growth and innovation, and support the middle class. Some economic thinkers believe deficits and debt can be manageable if kept to a certain proportion of the GDP.

Canada Without Poverty, an organization that considers poverty a human rights abuse, as does CPJ, called the 2017 budget “a step in the right direction” but it “falls short of providing the comprehensive supports needed to ensure the Canadian government is meeting its obligations to people living in poverty.”

“Nearly five million people in Canada live in poverty and poverty costs the Canadian economy over $70 billion annually,” it said.

On the other end of the political spectrum, the Fraser Institute, a think-tank focused on research regarding free markets, believes the 2017 budget, instead of growing the GDP, might have an adverse effect, pointing out how the Liberal government is “on track to rack up over $140 billion in new debt over six years.”

“Deficits and increased debt now increase the likelihood of higher taxes later, and that uncertainty about future taxes impedes investment and entrepreneurship today,” said Charles Lammam, director of fiscal studies at the Fraser Institute.

While anti-poverty groups expressed concern the money is not flowing fast enough to address pressing concerns, pro-business groups expressed relief the government is pulling back a little on spending in this budget.

“The good news is this budget did not contain larger than expected deficits, like budget 2016 did,” said Aaron Wudrick, federal director the Canadian Taxpayers Federation. “The bad news it does nothing to address the massive fiscal hole it created last year, and provides few specifics for its so-called ‘innovation’ agenda.”

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