Budget 2017 looks to the future

Government signals shift in social policy - Fraser

By Lois Ann Dort    

OTTAWA – On Wednesday, March 22 the Trudeau Government released its second budget. Unlike the Liberals’ first budget after the resounding mandate they received in election 2015, this one was a little light on fireworks. Last year’s budget resulted in changes that could be felt immediately in the pocketbook by many Canadians; those who receive the Child Tax Benefit and others who benefited from a middle class tax cut.

Budget 2017 leans much further into the future. Plans for doling out money lay as much as 10 or 11 years ahead. And much of the money that will flow in the short term, won’t move into the economic stream until 2018-2019.

The Journal spoke with Central Nova MP Sean Fraser about the recent budget on Thursday, March 23.

The Liberal government touts this budget, as the previous one, as focusing on families and the middle class. Part of their family-friendly policies is the creation of child care spaces across the country. But monies for child care ($7 billion) will roll out over the next 10 years. For many parents their children will be past the need for child care spaces by the time these new spaces make it to their communities.

Similarly monies for housing ($11.2 billion) will roll out over the next 11 years.

When The Journal asked Fraser to address the long roll out, he said the answer was simple. “The money won’t take that long to start spending but given the size of the investment and the importance of these priorities, it’s hard to identify $11 billion worth of priorities to spend it on in one year.

“We want to do this right and we are setting the stage in budget 2017 to make a fundamental shift in Canada’s social policy. By investing in housing $11 billion, we’re going to make a real difference but we recognize you’re not going to solve Canada’s housing problems overnight.

“By investing $7 billion in child care we recognize that we are going to create roughly 40,000 new child care spaces for Canadian families. But we are being realistic and we know that is not going to happen tomorrow.”

In early January it was reported that a paper released on the Federal Finance website just before Christmas predicted that the government would run a deficit until 2050. While this budget is far from being back to balance, projecting a $28.5 billion deficit in 2017-2018, Fraser said he was highly skeptical that such predictions would ever come to pass. “I would be shocked if that ever proved to be the case. That presumes that all of the short-term investments that we are making in infrastructure to get the economy going again, will continue in perpetuity and that growth will remain at the stagnant level it was at the time of the last election.

“In fact the way that you do spend money changes year to year and the quality of the investments you make can have a real impact on economic growth,” said Fraser noting that deficits are anticipated over the next few years but spending was tied to creating jobs and providing families with services necessary to succeed.

Part of helping families includes an extension of parental leave up to 18 months. Home care and mental health services have also been expanded. “In Nova Scotia alone there is a combined $287 million on those two items.”

Fraser said that one of the main focuses in this budget is jobs. “The investment in job creation...is a top priority at home. Ensuring that people have a job so that they can support themselves is one of the biggest differences we can make.”

Investments in the Atlantic Growth Strategy and the recently announced Atlantic Fishery Fund, said Fraser, will specifically support the region he represents. The Atlantic Growth Strategy focuses on five pillars of economic growth: skilled workforce/immigration; innovation; clean growth and climate change; trade and investment; and infrastructure. While the Atlantic Fishery Fund, announced earlier this month, invests $325 million in the fish and seafood sector.

When asked what he was most pleased with in the budget, Fraser said that there were several initiatives that focused on Atlantic Canada; those mentioned above, as well as the recent trade agreement with Europe that would open up a large market for Atlantic Canadian products.

“We also see a real emphasize on gender. There has never been a budget in the history of Canada that has applied a gender lens to its investments in the way this budget has. A lot of the programs that come out of this budget, in infrastructure for example, it’s not only on creating jobs generally but making sure we’re also investing in skills training for women to also take part in the trades so they can share the benefits of infrastructure spending,” said Fraser. He also points to the National Strategy on Gender Based Violence and the new gender and diversity training for judges as gender positive initiatives.

“Between the focus on job creation, healthy environment, services for families...and gender; I think this budget really sets the stage for building a strong middle class as the budget is entitled,” concluded Fraser.