National Post (Latest Edition)

Few Canadians miss out on budget bonanza

- Christophe­r nardi

• Children, students, parents, the elderly, workers and the unemployed: few Canadians are missing from a host of new spending initiative­s worth tens of billions of dollars crammed into an election-ready budget by the Liberal government.

“Our country cannot prosper if we leave hundreds of thousands of Canadians behind. The world has learned the lesson of 2009 — the cost of allowing economic hardship to fester. In some countries, democracy itself has been threatened by that mistake. We will not let that happen in Canada,” Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland said in her budget speech Monday.

From a national $10-per-day child-care program, to enhanced student loan programs, to a $15 minimum wage for federally regulated industries, to more generous Old Age Security payments, the Trudeau government promises money to Canadians in nearly all walks of life as a federal election looms on the horizon.

In exchange, the 2021 budget — the first since 2019 due to the COVID-19 pandemic — also predicts eye-watering deficits starting at $354 billion at the end of the last fiscal year and gradually declining to $30.7 billion in five years. At that point, the federal debt is expected to exceed $1.4 trillion.

The centrepiec­e of the Liberal’s 724-page budget is a national childcare strategy that aims to bring the average cost down to $10 per day within the next five years across Canada.

To do so, the government is proposing a 50/50 cost split with provincial and territoria­l government­s as soon as possible.

Total cost: up to $30 billion by 2026, with an ongoing $8.3 billion annually after that to maintain the program.

Since Quebec already has a similar system in place, the federal government said it is currently negotiatin­g a separate deal with the province to help fund “further improvemen­ts,” but could not provide additional details.

“This is not an effort that will deliver instant gratificat­ion. We are building something that, of necessity, must be constructe­d collaborat­ively, and for the longterm,” Freeland warned in an apparent attempt to temper short-term expectatio­ns.

She also announced a host of new measures catering to young Canadians to the tune of nearly $6 billion over the next five years in a bid to prevent them from becoming a “lost generation.”

The government will notably double the Canada Student

Grant program — which will now pay up to $6,000 per school year in non-refundable tuition aid — for another two years as well as waive all interest on student loans until March 2023.

The government also promises to create 215,000 new “job skills developmen­t and work opportunit­ies” by boosting funding to various federal job placement programs such as Canada Summer Jobs.

“One of the most striking aspects of the pandemic has been the historic sacrifice young Canadians have made to protect their parents and grandparen­ts. Our youth have paid a high price to keep the rest of us safe,” the finance minister and deputy prime minister said.

The Liberals are sending a strong signal to provincial government­s they want to see minimum wages boosted across the country by increasing it to $15 per hour in federally regulated industries. This should affect 26,000 private sector workers.

For workers whose job was affected by the pandemic, the Liberals are not only extending all existing COVID-19 financial aid programs at least until September, but also promise a generous extension of Employment Insurance (EI) sickness benefits from 15 to 26 weeks starting in summer 2022 (at the cost of $3 billion over five years and nearly $1 billion annually after).

“Workers receiving cancer treatments or requiring a longer period to recover from an illness or injury can face a stressful income gap between the time they exhaust their EI sickness benefits and when they are healthy enough to return to work,” notes the budget to justify the investment.

The budget also significan­tly bolsters the Canada Workers Benefit, a federal program that provides a bonus tax refund for low-income workers worth up to $1,400 for single individual­s and $2,400 for families.

So the Liberals are investing nearly $8 billion over the next six years to make one million more Canadians eligible for the benefit by raising various income thresholds to levels where most full-time workers earning minimum wage would receive close to the maximum tax refund.

The Liberals are also making due on one of their 2019 election pledges of bumping Old Age Security (OAS) payments up by 10 per cent, or $766 annually, to the current 3.3 million recipients aged 75 years and older. They can also expect a one-time $500 extra payment this August.

The government says it hopes to provide better living conditions for current and future long-term care residents through a vague $3-billion pledge to “support provinces and territorie­s” in implementi­ng and enforcing better standards.

 ?? ADRIAN WYLD / THE CANADIAN PRESS ?? Prime Minister Justin Trudeau arrives at the West Block of the House of Commons
Monday prior to the release of his government’s first budget in two years.
ADRIAN WYLD / THE CANADIAN PRESS Prime Minister Justin Trudeau arrives at the West Block of the House of Commons Monday prior to the release of his government’s first budget in two years.

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