WATCH ABOVE: Finance Minister Joe Oliver speaks with Global National
OTTAWA – It’s so much more than just a budget.
The 518-page document Finance Minister Joe Oliver unveiled Tuesday is also the Conservative platform for the fall campaign and their strategic plan for the next mandate if they’re re-elected.
“It’s the budget, the ‘Blue Book’ and the plan for the next four years,” said Ian Lee, a professor at the Carleton University’s Sprott School of Business in Ottawa. It says, “If we are elected, this is where we are taking the country,” he said.
The budget shows a razor-thin surplus, thanks in large part to drawing down the federal emergency fund, selling federal shares in General Motors, a predicted deal with public servants regarding their sick days and an anticipated record level of lapsed spending from a number of federal departments.
It also includes funds for municipal infrastructure – eventually (read: at least two years from now).
In case you were wondering which Canadian voters the Conservatives are courting ahead of October’s vote, the budget should dispel any confusion: Older people, business owners and middle-income families.
“A party only needs 40 per cent of the vote to get a majority,” Lee said. “They can forget about the other 60 percent.”
In an effort to target that 40 per cent, the Conservatives have promised a suite of tax measures to help put up to $6,600 back in families’ pocket and proposed expanding compassionate care benefits to six months from six weeks for people taking care of dying family members, among other low-tax initiatives.
Seniors stand to benefit from changes to Registered Retired Income Funds, allowing them to keep more money in savings, tax-free.
As for business owners, they’ll benefit from reductions in the small business tax rate to nine per cent by 2019. The government estimates this will eventually cost about $2.7 billion.
The budget would also scale back public service sick-day benefits, which could have populist appeal even though unions have threatened to strike over the issue, Lee said.
The Conservatives are one of many Canadian governments that have sought to earn political points by slamming unions: Unionized employees tend to be higher-paid and earn more benefits than their non-unionized employees. (Some economists have argued this should make non-unionized workers fight for similar treatment, but it hasn’t worked out that way.
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Seventy per cent of Canadians aren’t unionized, according to Statistics Canada; in the private sector, only 16 per cent of employees are unionized.
Lee researched the past five pieces of back-to-work legislation – used to mandate Canada Post, Air Canada and railroad workers from striking – and found public opinion overwhelmingly supported the government’s action.
“If the public servants do go on strike, there is no doubt this government will legislate them back to work,” Lee said. “That means the Conservatives can ride into an election showing strong leadership in an area where there is almost no appetite for strikes.”
A terror-focused mandate
The Conservatives have increasingly placed a strong focus on terrorism at home and abroad, arguing the necessity for measures contained in their so-called anti- terror bill.
The focus has been so strong, in fact, some observers have speculated terrorism will become the new flag the Conservatives will wave, replacing the “fragile” economy banner.
The 2015 budget reveals increased spending for national safety measures, including:
- $293 million over five years for intelligence and law enforcement agencies combating terrorism
- Doubling Security Intelligence Review Committee’s budget by proving $12.5 million over five years starting this year.
- Investing $58 million over five years starting this year to protect Ottawa’s cyber systems
- $60.4 million over three years to help enhance security on Parliament Hill
The budget also has an eye on safety in communities, investing in security at federal courts, registry offices and the Supreme Court, and providing $10 million over five years to the City of Ottawa to support policing services in the capital.