OTTAWA – Finance Minister Bill Morneau tabled a federal budget Tuesday that charts a clear course for the Liberals to the 2019 election, an aspirational road map designed to ensure that no woman, scientist or national wildlife area gets left behind.
“It is a plan that puts people first – that invests in Canadians and in the things that matter most to them,” Morneau told the House of Commons in his budget speech.
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The document, which details a $18.1-billion deficit, including a $3-billion adjustment for risk, also shows the Liberal government is doubling down on the idea that spending money — even borrowed money — is good for the long-term future of Canadians.
Once again, there is also no timeline for getting back to black.
“We’ve shown to Canadians that making investments in them, making investments to allow more Canadians to be working, has exactly the positive impact that we want it to have,” Morneau told a news conference Tuesday when pressed on that point.
The Liberals are making that argument most strongly when devoting those dollars to causes near to their progressive hearts, as well as to those of Canadians who might be thinking about casting a ballot their way in October of next year.
The budget, as expected, puts a large emphasis on gender equality, particularly with efforts to increase the participation of women in the workforce as part of a longer-term plan to grow the economy and prepare for the consequences of an aging population.
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“We know that the way to best impact our long-term demographics is to get every Canadian with a real and fair chance not only work, but to have really good work, and we start with women,” Morneau said before the budget was tabled.
“If half of our population are held back, we’re just not going to be as successful.”
One big part of that plan is to introduce up to five weeks of leave – with employment insurance benefits that come with a starting cost of $1.2 billion over five years – for new fathers, as a way to help break the pattern of mothers automatically taking on the greater share child-rearing responsibilities, and losing earning power as a result.
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It also includes measure to boost the number of women entrepreneurs, as well as those in the trades and the fields of science, technology, engineering and math.
The budget, for the first time in Canadian history, also went through a full gender-based analysis, which involved thinking about how every single measure would impact men, women, boys and girls in different ways, while taking other intersecting factors such as age, ethnicity, income and disability into account.
The Liberals are also promising legislation that would enshrine gender-based analysis in the budget-making process, forcing themselves – and, technically, future governments – to repeat the exercise every year and continue tracking their progress on equality.
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Throughout the budget, the Liberals also declared a goal of getting better at collecting the data required to do a deeper dive.
There was no additional money for child care this year however, although the Liberals feel they dealt with that in the previous budget: $7.5 billion over 11 years for bilateral deals with the provinces and territories.
Economist Armine Yalnizyan said that since the wages of women of child-bearing age reached a plateau a decade ago, bigger investments in child care spaces would likely have the biggest impact on the stated goal of increasing the participation of women in the workforce.
“It’s really frustrating that they want women to help with economic growth, but they won’t help women – this year,” Yalnizyan said.
That overarching theme of gender equality aside, the budget is also a smattering of smaller measures, with the long, scattershot list at the back of the 367-page document including everything from money to repair and maintain the graves of veterans and expanding the tax credit for service dogs to help people with post-traumatic stress disorder.
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Still, other themes emerge, including major investments in science, the environment and reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples, which are all areas Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government sees as part of its progressive vision for the country and the world.
It also allows the Liberals to continue telling a story that sets them up in contrast to the Conservatives.
That includes $3.2 billion over five years for investing in Canadian scientists and researchers, as well as $1.3 billion over five years to help Canada meet a United Nations commitment to protect at least 17 per cent of its land and inland waters by 2020.
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The budget also announced the creation of an advisory council – to be chaired by Dr. Eric Hoskins, who resigned Monday as Ontario health minister – to begin exploring options for a national pharmacare plan, although Morneau did not promise that would be ready in time for the 2019 vote.
That will be one way for Trudeau to try to outflank NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, who has made bringing Canadians universal access to affordable prescription drugs a top priority.