Billions of dollars will be poured into some key priorities of faith and social justice groups under proposed spending in the federal budget unveiled April 19.
However, exactly how that money will be spent is open to debate, as is the impact it will have on issues such as reconciliation with Canada’s First Nations, transitioning Canada to a greener economy, providing child-care support to families, and helping Canadian charities survive the economic devastation of the COVID pandemic.
Along with forecasting a deficit of $354 billion for the 2020-21 fiscal year and $154.7 billion for 2021-22, the minority Liberal government is promising to continue to support Canadians and Canadian businesses financially during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic that is currently in a third wave across the country.
“This budget is about finishing the fight against COVID-19. It’s about healing the wounds left by the COVID-19 recession. And it’s about creating more jobs and prosperity for Canadians in the days – and decades – to come,” Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland said during her budget speech.
Freeland, who is also deputy prime minister, unveiled in her first budget as finance minister a host of spending initiatives, many of which focused on environmental concerns that have been at the forefront of demands by groups such as For the Love of Creation, an initiative that brings together environmental and religious organizations including Catholic groups to lobby on behalf of action to address climate change.
In the budget, $101 billion in new spending was earmarked for the next three years to help transition to a green economy, which religious groups and social justice organizations have been calling for in what they have labelled a “just transition.”
While the many “green” aspects of the budget are being applauded by organizations such as the faith-based Citizens for Public Justice, an Ottawa-based spokesperson for CPJ said the government could and should have gone further down that road.
“Investments in clean transportation, energy efficiency, adaptation and mitigation and resilient agriculture are all key,” said CPJ senior policy analyst Karri Munn-Venn.
“Unfortunately, by coupling these measures with extensive supports to the oil and gas sector it becomes clear that the federal government has yet to grasp the severity and urgency of the global climate crisis or the devastating ramifications of inadequate action.”
Also promised in the budget was $30 billion over five years and $8.3 billion per year after that for a national child-care program, $18 billion to go towards what is being called “safer” and “healthier” Indigenous communities, $17.6 billion towards other “green recovery” efforts, $3 billion over five years to help improve long-term care, and $2.5 billion for housing units for vulnerable Canadians.
The federal government has been promising to bring in a national daycare system, but what it has proposed is disappointing to the religious think tank Cardus, which has been advocating for a flexible system for parents and not a one-size-fits-all government system as is currently in place in Quebec.
“Families know how to make the choices that work best for them. Federal policy should maximize the flexibility of families to make varied choices across the country, emphasizing respect for these choices and decisions in the arena of caring for children and elders,” a Cardus family support position paper states.
“The child-care plan proposed in Budget 2021 is structurally opposed to equity for all families. All families will pay for the plan, but only families who choose or can access the type of care the federal government favours receive the subsidized benefit,” Cardus said in a statement in response to the budget.
“While the federal budget speaks of quality care, the budgeted amount and the timeframe are not enough to create a quality system.
“Child care is the care of a child no matter who provides the care or where the care takes place. Supporting parents directly is the equitable way to help all families, regardless of the type of care arrangement they use, including caring for their own children,” said the Cardus statement.
“The proposed plan devalues the work parents and other caregivers do outside of an institutional setting.
“Families know how to make the choices that work best for them. Federal policy should maximize the flexibility of families to make varied choices across the country, emphasizing respect for these choices and decisions in the arena of caring for children.”
However, CPJ socio-economic policy analyst Natalie Appleyard Appleyard praised the federal support for a national child-care program to be created with the help of the provinces.
“Long-awaited and critical investments towards the goal of $10-a-day childcare fees are to be celebrated,” Appleyard said.
Also included in the budget is more financial support for Canada’s charitable sector, which has been hard hit financially by the COVID pandemic. However, that support falls short of what many in the charitable sector have been asking for.
A statement released by Canada Cares, a coalition of charity groups, said “the budget takes encouraging first steps towards delivering” on a promise to help charities “with a temporary Community Services Recovery Fund of $400 million in 2021-22.”
“While this may deliver comprehensive support, it does not address the unique and diverse needs of different charitable organizations,” the charity lobby organization said.
“We are especially disappointed that the federal budget did not include an initiative that would double the support for charities by leveraging private donations to assist government efforts. This will have long-term negative effects on the sector’s ability to recover.”