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COLUMN: Some budget measures 'a day late and a dollar short': Hughes

'This budget could have eliminated previous Conservative tax cuts for the richest corporations or put forward a windfall tax for those companies who are gouging consumers to line their pockets, but neither measure materialized'
Carol Hughes

Algoma-Manitoulin-Kapuskasing MP, Carol Hughes writes a regular column about initiatives and issues impacting our community.

This week, the government put forward yet another budget that lays out their agenda for the upcoming year. It comes at a time where some of the biggest issues of our time, including the costs of housing and food, require real work and investments to correct course. On one hand, some of the measures included in the budget will provide tangible benefits to working Canadians. On the other, it feels like many of the measures outlined are a day late and a dollar short.

Firstly, there are some items in this budget that will clearly make a huge difference in peoples lives, measures that would not have been included had New Democrats not been pushing for them. This includes the development of a framework for a Canadian Pharmacare plan that, in its initial phase, provides access to contraceptives for nine million women and diabetes medication for 3.7 million Canadians. Also, the framework for a National School Food Program is one of the clearest examples of a measure that will ensure children never go to class hungry, as one in four children is currently food insecure.

On a similar token, increasing funding for more $10-a-day childcare spaces and training more early childhood educators will further help Canadians’ pocketbooks. Many families currently spend more on childcare every month then they do on housing, in an environment where housing costs are rising. With increased investments towards the building of more childcare spaces, and a $48 million investment to expand the reach of the Canada Student Loan Forgiveness Program to early childhood educators who work in rural and remote communities, more families should be able to access affordable childcare. Investments in childcare will be particularly helpful to women who traditionally bear the responsibility for childcare.

But the main focus of the budget has clearly been on housing. We know that, across the country, we are not building enough homes to meet Canada’s needs, and far too many people are struggling both with the cost of rent and the difficulty of trying to purchase their first home. In fact, the Parliamentary Budget Office believes that 1.3 million more new homes will need to be built by 2030 than is currently projected to eliminate the housing demand gap.

For renters in particular, the budget features several measures New Democrats have been advocating for to lower costs and assert renters’ rights. These include a $15-million Tenant Protection Fund, which will provide funding to legal services and tenants’ rights advocacy organizations to defend against unfair rent increases, renovictions, and slum lords. The budget also contains a measure that will give renters the ability to leverage their good payment history towards their credit score, making them better able to qualify for a mortgage.

For those trying to get into the housing market, Budget 2024 amends the Canadian Mortgage Charter by allowing 30-year mortgage amortizations for first-time home buyers who buy new builds, another New Democrat proposal. While first time homebuyers may find these measures helpful, the clear hurdle is the actual cost of a home, a cost that is far outpacing wage increases.

There were also further investments for First Nations, Indigenous, and Métis peoples, including funding for the Red Dress Alert program, designed similarly to the Amber Alert system, to notify the public when an Indigenous woman, girl, or Two-Spirit person goes missing. The budget also contains language surrounding the ongoing work to support Indigenous policing projects, and a commitment to introduce First Nations policing Legislation, an issue that is particularly important to people in Northern Ontario.

The budget has its problems, as well. After long delays, the Canada Disability Benefit will finally be funded, providing those who qualify with an offensively small top-up of $200 per month, not nearly enough to lift people with disabilities out of poverty.  This budget could have eliminated previous Conservative tax cuts for the richest corporations or put forward a windfall tax for those companies who are gouging consumers to line their pockets, but neither measure materialized.  

While the budget is too large to effectively examine over the length of a column, it’s clear that none of the measures that are designed to help Canadians through the current cost of living crisis would be possible without the NDP forcing them to act.