The Conservatives delivered their first budget as a majority government Thursday, and it took aim at some predictable targets including environmental regulations, public sector jobs, and the CBC.
Key items include:
- the elimination of 19,200 public sector jobs over three years
- raising the age for Old Age Security from 65 to 67, to take effect in 2023
- capping environmental assessments for major resource development projects at 24 months
- scrapping production of the penny
- a 10-per-cent cut to the CBC
- no major tax changes for corporations or individuals
The government says this will result in savings of $5.2 billion a year over three years, and will put Canada back in the black by 2015.
Critics say otherwise:
Economists at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives say that by rolling back social supports and refusing to ask corporations and the wealthy to increase their share of the tax burden, the budget will slow Canada's economic growth. "Federal austerity, combined with provincial austerity, will create a fiscal drag on Canada's economy," says CCPA senior economist David Macdonald. "We saw a similar story unfold in the 1930s and it didn't end well."
Environmental groups are slamming the government's decision to streamline the Environmental Assessment Act, warning that it will lead to expedited approval of potentially harmful large scale industrial projects. The Sierra Club predicts that the weakened legislation will mean "Canadians are less able to protect our water, air and land," and the Environmental Defence group calls the move a "gift to Big Oil" at the expense of the Canadian people.
Canadian Labour Congress president Ken Georgetti criticizes the decision to raise the eligibility age for OAS pensions from 65 to 67, saying, "This budget should have been used to improve the retirement security of Canadians, not to undermine it." Georgetti is also expressing disappointment that the government didn't take steps to improve access to Employment Insurance, which he says only 39.5 per cent of unemployed Canadians can currently collect on a regular basis.
Canadian Arts Coalition co-chair Eric Dubeau breathes a sigh of relief that the budget is not slashing funding for the Canada Council for the Arts, and is seeking savings in the operations rather than grants programs under the Department of Heritage. "The arts have an important role to play not only in economic recovery, but also to the vitality of communities and the wellbeing of Canadians," Dubeau says.
ACTRA, which represents film, television and radio artists, says the budget sends mixed messages. Like the CAC, the group is encouraged by the preservation of funding for the Canada Council for the Arts, but is disheartened by cuts to Telefilm Canada, the NFB and CBC. ACTRA president Ferne Downey cites a study that found in 2010 the CBC generated $3.7 billion in economic benefits from an expenditure of $1.7 billion. "The CBC is a vital part of the cultural infrastructure that helps tie this country together," Downey says. "Funding the CBC isn't a subsidy; it's an investment in our future."
Sean Atleo, Assembly of First Nations chief, hailed the inclusion of a $275 million commitment to build schools on reserves and renew the Urban Aboriginal Strategy. "The voices of our people are beginning to be heard," he told CBC Radio. "This builds very much on the apology the prime minister gave in 2008 to the residential school era."
The NDP's Peggy Nash, MP for Parkdale - High Park and recent candidate for party leadership, says that there's little in this budget for Torontonians to be happy about. "One of the big issues in a city like Toronto is a lack of affordable housing. And there's nothing in this budget to help with that," she says. She also cites a lack of money for Toronto's beleaguered transit system. "From an urban perspective, this budget is not great."
Oh, and eliminating the penny? Nash says that was the NDP's idea.