Times Colonist

Lib­er­als un­der pres­sure to of­fer eco­nomic plan


OT­TAWA — Chrys­tia Free­land’s voice perked up as she started to dis­cuss child care dur­ing a vir­tual fundraiser this week.

She ex­plained how an is­sue near to her had be­come top of mind for cor­po­rate ex­ec­u­tives, who had be­gun bang­ing on her door about a na­tional pro­gram.

The fed­eral fi­nance min­is­ter said the pan­demic’s hit to women in the work­force had pro­duced an “epiphany” about the need for child care.

“Not go­ing to be easy,” she said Thurs­day night. “But I think we all need to take a deep breath and get it done.”

The first step is ex­pected Mon­day, when Free­land de­liv­ers an eco­nomic up­date that busi­ness and labour groups hope in­cludes some­thing on child care. But those groups also say Free­land must out­line both con­crete pro­pos­als to man­age COVID-19 in the short term and long-term steps for re­cov­ery.

“If you just put num­bers on a sheet of pa­per, it prob­a­bly doesn’t tell the story they want.

They need to build a case for what they’ve been do­ing and what they are aim­ing at,” said Robert As­selin, a for­mer eco­nomic ad­viser to the Trudeau Lib­er­als, now se­nior vi­cepres­i­dent for pol­icy at the Busi­ness Coun­cil of Canada.

Like­wise, El­liot Hughes, who was an ad­viser to for­mer fi­nance min­is­ter Bill Morneau, said Free­land’s up­date should pro­vide Cana­di­ans a sketch of an eco­nomic vi­sion.

That may in­clude not only talk about child care, but also vac­cine dis­tri­bu­tion and skills train­ing and a long view on post­pan­demic plans. The Lib­er­als have promised a “green” re­cov­ery, and NDP Leader Jag­meet Singh called on them this week to de­liver.

“Peo­ple are al­ready turn­ing their sights on to what the re­cov­ery is go­ing to look like,” said Hughes, now with Summa Strate­gies. “Re­spond­ing to that would be some­thing, I think, Cana­di­ans are in­ter­ested in.”

The fall eco­nomic state­ment should have a full ac­count­ing of pan­demic spend­ing so far, and the depth of this year’s deficit, which in July was fore­cast at a his­toric $343.2 bil­lion.

There are vary­ing es­ti­mates of what the deficit is now. A re­port on Fri­day from RBC fore­cast a deficit close to $370 bil­lion, while a sep­a­rate re­port from Sco­tia­bank said $425 bil­lion is pos­si­ble.

Re­bekah Young, Sco­tia­bank’s di­rec­tor of fis­cal and pro­vin­cial eco­nomics, wrote the ac­tual num­ber shouldn’t be as much a fo­cus as the pro­grams that cre­ate it. “Namely,” she wrote, “is it growth-en­hanc­ing in­vest­ments that will sup­port stronger growth, or is it tilted to­ward stronger so­cial spend­ing that drives struc­tural deficits?”

The Lib­er­als face calls for tar­geted help for sec­tors that need an ex­tra hand, such as air­lines and restau­rants, to avoid a post-pan­demic re­cov­ery in which some work­ers and busi­nesses do well while oth­ers fall fur­ther be­hind.

The cost of that tar­geted help de­pends on the du­ra­tion of the pan­demic and the sever­ity of the se­cond, or even third, wave of COVID-19, said Per­rin Beatty, pres­i­dent of the Cana­dian Cham­ber of Com­merce. “What we need to do is to make sure that we are pro­vid­ing as­sis­tance to those who need it and not to those who don’t,” he said.

Dan Kelly, pres­i­dent of the Cana­dian Fed­er­a­tion of In­de­pen­dent Busi­ness, said there is still a need for spend­ing to help the small busi­nesses he rep­re­sents stay open.

“Even a fis­cally hawk­ish or­ga­ni­za­tion like mine is deeply aware that we’re go­ing to have to run up gi­gan­tic deficits in or­der to keep the lights on in the econ­omy long enough for us to put COVID in the rear-view mir­ror,” he said.

Has­san Yus­suff, pres­i­dent of the Cana­dian Labour Congress, said the gov­ern­ment should use the fis­cal up­date to an­nounce a long-promised re­view of the em­ploy­ment in­sur­ance sys­tem, bump up the fed­eral min­i­mum wage and take a step to­ward na­tional phar­ma­care.

“There should be some in­di­ca­tion that th­ese things are still a pri­or­ity for them and they’re go­ing to con­tinue to work to that real­ity,” he said, adding that some mea­sures may need to wait un­til next year’s bud­get.

A group of ex­perts at C.D. Howe In­sti­tute es­ti­mated in a sep­a­rate re­port Fri­day that prom­ises from the Lib­er­als’ agenda-set­ting throne speech this fall would amount to be­tween $19 bil­lion and $44 bil­lion in per­ma­nent an­nual spend­ing.

 ??  ?? Chrys­tia Free­land in the House of Com­mons this week.
Chrys­tia Free­land in the House of Com­mons this week.

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