Federal Budget 2018: Some (lesser-known) highlights, from Pharmacare to service dogs
There was little change in the overall economic forecast, and not much to report in terms of tax changes, the deficit, or new sources of government revenue. But beyond the high-level numbers, there was a lot going on just beneath the surface in the 2018 federal budget.
Watch Below: Trudeau, Morneau show off budget in House foyer
Here are some of the most interesting and sometimes-unexpected proposals that could affect you and your family.
Observers were expecting some big potential developments on this file after it was reported that Budget 2018 would include the first small steps toward a national pharmacare program to cover the cost of prescription medications.
Those first steps are definitely baby ones.
The government will create an advisory council to begin “a national dialogue” on the matter and eventually recommend “options on how to move forward together.”
WATCH BELOW: Government announces national pharmacare council
The budget provides no funding amount for this council, to be led by Ontario’s former minister of health Dr. Eric Hoskins, nor does it set out a timeline for the completion of the work.
“We don’t have an answer on exactly how long because we need to get at it … You need to give us a little bit of time,” said Morneau on Tuesday during the budget lockup.
“We’re trying to get at this issue, it’s a really important issue. … We’re going to find out how we can best approach this.”
WATCH ABOVE: NDP says Liberals’ pharmacare plan does not talk about implementation
Last year, over 20,000 people crossed the Canada-U.S. border irregularly (between legal checkpoints) and attempted to claim asylum.
The influx was so overwhelming during the summer months, particularly in Quebec, that the government was forced to set up temporary shelters and processing centres.
This year, Ottawa seems to be bracing in advance for a new influx.
The budget dedicates another $173.2 million to enhanced security at the border and the processing of asylum claims.
But according to the budget, that money won’t be used to harden the border or to turn people away.
“Funding would be used to manage the increased number of people seeking asylum in Canada this year, many of whom arrive with their families seeking quick, safe and compassionate processing,” the budget notes.
The Liberals started their four-year mandate with some big investments in infrastructure (nearly $12 billion over five years, starting in 2016), and argued that by injecting money into projects across the country, they could stimulate economic growth.
The problem, which has been highlighted repeatedly by the Parliamentary Budget Officer, is that the money isn’t getting out the door.
Budget 2018 makes that abundantly clear.
The lapse in projected spending this past year was $2.67 billion; this coming year, it’s projected to hit $2.19 billion.
By 2020 – if federal predictions hold – things should start to look like they’re getting back on track.
Overall though, the aggregate lapse in infrastructure spending will likely sit at $2.5 billion by 2022-2023.
“It’s not a big surprise. I mean the feds couldn’t do it back in 2009-2010 when they were in the global financial crisis,” said Randall Bartlett, chief economist at the Institute of Fiscal Studies and Democracy at the University of Ottawa.
“It took them an additional year to get that spending out the door, too … and this is a lot more money, at a time when the economy is doing really well. So we’re already employing a lot of those construction assets, construction workers.”
The only truly surprising part, he added, is how shocked the government seems to be at its own failure.
WATCH BELOW: The biggest takeaways for Canadian businesses in Budget 2018
As the media landscape shifts, the government has faced calls to step in and help support local journalism.
Critics have warned though of the potential minefield of journalistic ethics that could arise if the government comes to the financial rescue.
Ottawa has very much erred on the side of caution in this budget, dedicating $50 million over the next five years “to one or more independent non-governmental organizations that will support local journalism in underserved communities.”
Economist David Macdonald of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives said $10 million a year is “a pittance” compared to the huge financial hole in which many media organizations find themselves.
The Liberal government has made no secret of its desire to engage with China on trade, although no formal talks are yet underway. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau faced heavy criticism last fall when he left Beijing without a firm commitment.
This budget seems to suggest that the government believes more diplomacy is the answer, dedicating $75 million over the next five years to “establish a stronger Canadian diplomatic and trade support presence in China and Asia.” That means more diplomats and trade commissioners on the ground, the document notes, and unnamed “new initiatives” to help bolster future trade ties.
WATCH BELOW: Scheer says Liberals don’t have contingency for NAFTA negotiations
Normally, funding for parks and conservation isn’t a major budget line item, but this year is the exception to the rule.
Ottawa is setting aside “historic investments” totalling $1.3 billion over the next five years to support biodiversity and protect species at risk.
A full $500 million of that will be used to create a “Nature Fund” that will be a partnership between the federal government, the provinces and territories, and private sector partners.
What that could mean for the average Canadian is more protected spaces, better services and facilities in national and provincial parks, and more species conservation efforts in their communities.
WATCH BELOW: Preet Banerjee on the biggest Budget 2018 takeaways for everyday Canadians
The government is moving to provide more support for Canadians suffering from mental health issues – including veterans – by helping them with the cost of psychiatric service dogs.
Specifically, starting this year, the Medical Expense Tax Credit will be expanded to cover costs associated with the animals.
The government says it recognizes the important role the dogs can play in helping people cope with PTSD and other mental-health conditions.
Last year, Veterans Affairs Canada flagged an enormous backlog of 45,000 veterans’ graves that were in need of repair, out of the 310,000 resting places that the department is responsible for maintaining both in Canada and abroad.
A lack of funding meant that, if nothing changed, it would take 17 years to clear the backlog.
Budget 2018 has responded with an injection of $24.4 million over the next five years, which will be used to make sure the headstones are cleaned, restored, have their foundations fixed and – in the worst cases – be replaced.
The government says that funding should be able to eliminate the whole backlog.
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