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Federal budget takes small steps, but ultimately falls short

The 2019 federal budget tabled this week makes some small progressive steps forward by offering some relief on student loans, enrolling more seniors in Canada Pension Plan, and providing other funding aimed at the so-called “middle class.” But it fails to provide adequate funding in key areas such as pharmacare, eliminating drinking water advisories in First Nations, and the funding needed for a just transition in our economy in the face of climate change.

While the Liberals committed some money to help create a national agency to assess prescription drugs, negotiate bulk purchasing prices, and set up a national drug formulary that would list the drugs all Canadians could access, it was not tied to implementing a national pharmacare program.

The Council of Canadians has joined with public health care advocates across the country in calling for a publicly funded and administered pharmacare program.

The Trudeau government repeated its promise to end all long-term drinking water advisories in First Nations by 2021, and money was pledged over six years for indigenous issues. This includes nearly $1-billion to settle land claims, $1.2-billion to expand health and social services for First Nations children, and $739 million to eliminate drinking-water advisories.

This falls short of what is needed for water. As Council of Canadians Water Campaigner Emma Lui detailed in the 2019 Alternative Federal Budget (AFB), it is estimated that an investment of $5 billion over three years in infrastructure operations and maintenance in First Nation communities is required to ensure all Indigenous peoples have access to safe, clean drinking water. Water is a human right. No one should be without access to safe, clean drinking water.

The federal budget also falls short on the urgent and immediate action needed to face the growing impacts of climate change.

Last October, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) released a report that basically stated: “it’s worse than we thought, and we’re doing less than we promised.” As noted by the Council of Canadians Climate Justice Campaigner Bronwen Tucker in “Pull Together: A guide to staying under 1.5°C,” “This isn’t new – it has been the crux of every international climate report we’ve had since the UN started working on them in 1988. But as we get closer to our planetary tipping points, the implications are becoming much more existential. To have a decent chance at staying below global warming of 1.5ºC, we will need to cut our emissions in half in the next 12 years.”

The federal budget was an opportunity to show leadership on climate change. Instead, fossil fuel subsidies remain in place, climate reduction targets haven’t changed since the Harper government was in power, and the Liberal’s focus remains on carbon pricing instead of the needed investments in renewable energies.

And this is the government that also agreed to spend billions on buying a pipeline to continue operations in the tar sands.

The Alternative Federal Budget (AFB), which was released last September, showed how “Canada can boost competitiveness and encourage innovation by investing in people, not by giving corporations more tax cuts.”

As noted on the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives website, “under the AFB plan, the 95% of Canadian families who earn less than $254,000 a year will be better off on average due to both tax and transfer changes, and new social programs including a long overdue national pharmacare plan, universal child care and free tuition. This can all be achieved while maintaining historically low deficits.”

The CCPA responded to yesterday’s budget, concluding that: “Budget 2019 identifies the right targets, but holds off on making necessary investments: climate change, unaffordable housing and the lack of wage raises are issues that can’t afford to wait,” said CCPA Senior Economist David Macdonald. “Experience over the past four years has shown that progressive promises during an election year do not always translate into action, adequate funding and truly transformational federal policies.”

But the news wasn’t all bad. Food security got a boost of $134.4 million over 5 years. Food Secure Canada (FSC), which has campaigned for the Food Policy For Canada for 10 years now, celebrated the funding commitment. “This budget shows the beginning of a serious commitment to local food and to community-led initiatives, as well as a more holistic vision of food policy for Canada” said Melana Roberts, Chair of FSC’s Board of Directors. “However, it is not going to change much for the 4 million Canadians who live in food insecurity.”

The Council of Canadians will continue to push the Liberal government for the federal funding that is needed to fulfill the human right to water, address climate change, and ensure people have the public programs and services they need, including a national pharmacare program. Now, more than ever, we need a government that is committed to closing the growing economic gap between rich and poor and placing higher priority people and the environment over powerful corporations.