Alistair MacGregor

Alistair MacGregor column: Budget 2021: promising initiatives and missed opportunities

With approximately $100 billion in new spending

By Alistair MacGregor

On Monday, April 19, the first federal budget in over two years was delivered. Coming in during the devastating third wave of the pandemic, at a time when so many Canadians and small businesses are struggling to make ends meet, when inequalities have increased and the ultra-rich have significantly increased their wealth, and when so many gaps have been identified in our social safety net, the federal budget had many expectations.

Did it meet them?

Clocking in at over 700 pages, this federal budget, in a nod to the unprecedented times we find ourselves in, is heavy on spending commitments, and promises continued federal financial supports to help Canadians through to the recovery. With approximately $100 billion in new spending, there are significant announcements for childcare, expanding the Canada Workers Benefit, and a green recovery to tackle climate change. These are, at face value, laudable initiatives.

What should give us pause on Liberal promises is the track record of promises from the Liberals. It was 28 years and many majority governments ago that the Liberals first promised childcare. Twenty-four years ago, a similar commitment was made for pharmacare.

The government, in its goal of eventually bringing childcare fees down to an average of $10 per day, is proposing to spend $30 billion over the next five years, with $8.3 billion ongoing, to bring the cost-share to 50/50 with the provinces. Having run on a platform of delivering childcare in both the 2015 and 2019 elections, I applaud this investment and sincerely hope the Liberals follow through. Women in the workforce have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic, and this is precisely the kind of investment that is needed help families reach their full economic potential.

Following its first debut in 1997, the Liberals’ 2019 platform showcased a national pharmacare promise, but unfortunately Budget 2021 makes only a passing reference to working towards the goal of a universal national program. This is especially galling given that it was only two months ago that the Liberals voted against an NDP bill to establish a federal framework for pharmacare, based on the existing Canada Health Act. This is a key element that is missing from our public healthcare system.

The wealthy in Canada have seen their fortunes surge during the pandemic while everyone else has suffered. Instead of offering a wealth tax to bring in fairness, the Liberals missed an opportunity to bring in a crucial revenue source, which could have been used to invest in national pharmacare and dental care plans.

In the weeks and months ahead, I’ll be keeping a close eye on the progress of initiatives promised in Budget 2021 while continuing to propose alternative policies designed to help working families get ahead.

Alistair MacGregor is the Member of Parliament for Cowichan-Malahat-Langford.

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