Finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s budget didn’t bring the pain many expected, but still was a disappointment to pro-family and anti-poverty groups. Photo by Deborah Gyapong

Federal budget’s ‘draconian’ expectations fall flat, but some groups still unhappy

  • April 4, 2012

OTTAWA - The 2012 federal budget is not as draconian as pre-budget speculation led Canadians to expect, though pro-family and anti-poverty groups still found aspects of it disappointing.

The Conservative government of Stephen Harper delivered its first majority budget March 29 without the “hidden agenda” its critics have long said was forthcoming. Instead, it focused on jobs, growth and prosperity. The Conservatives did not cut government spending in absolute terms, only reined in the rate of growth of government spending to reduce the deficit gradually until achieving a balanced budget in 2015-2016.

Still, there was room for criticism from some quarters after Finance Minister Jim Flaherty delivered the budget, more for what it left out than what it delivered. Citizens for Public Justice (CPJ) executive director Joe Gunn said his organization is not slamming the budget, though he expressed dismay at the cut of nearly 10 per cent to CIDA, the budget’s lack of even a mention of climate change and its failure to adopt a national anti-poverty strategy. Gunn said the biggest challenge Canadians face is the destruction of the environment through climate change.

“The word climate only appears in relation to investment climate,” he said.

Gunn also noted the budget will shut down the National Council of Welfare in 2013, an arms-length agency that provided information on welfare incomes across the provinces. He noted that when he worked for the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, the bishops relied on the council’s statistics when they issued pastoral letters on poverty.

None of the pre-budget recommendations CPJ made were picked up, he said.

The one area Gunn praised was the $275 million over three years to improve aboriginal education on reserves and $27 million to renew the urban aboriginal strategies. While it may fall short of what aboriginal leaders hoped for, Gunn said the improvements show the government was listening on this file.

The budget also got mixed reviews from the Institute of Marriage and Family Canada (IMFC), a pro-family think tank in Ottawa. The IMFC liked the changes to Old Age Security, saying it “takes steps toward addressing the unsustainable nature of some of Canada’s social programs in light of demographic decline.”

“Statistics Canada reports that within the next decade there will be more Canadians over the age of 65 than those under the age of 15 for the first time in our history,” the IMFC said, praising the raising of the age of OAS eligibility from 65 to 67 starting in 2023.

“It’s good to see some light shone on the fact that Canada is not having enough kids to keep social spending as is,” said IMFC manager of research Andrea Mrozek.

But the IMFC said the biggest negative was the lack of further tax breaks for families.

“Today’s budget attempts to address our long-term demographics without making life easier for those raising the next generation of Canadians today,” it said. “Canadian families carry a heavy tax burden and research says finances are the number one stress for families. Substantive tax relief is necessary.”

The government has promised to introduce income splitting when the budget is balanced in 2015 but that is not soon enough, according to the IMFC. Income splitting would help single-earner families that pay higher taxes on the same income earned by dual-earner families.

“It’s all well and good to accommodate demographic changes in the future, but if you don’t make life easier for people having kids today, you are fighting a losing battle,” said Mrozek.

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