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Budget 2013: Jim Flaherty not skating to where the puck is going to be


Lost in all of the detail of Budget 2013 is the fact that it makes remarkably little difference to the trajectory Canada was on before the budget. Cuts to programs and services to close the small fiscal deficit remain the order of the day, while only lip service is given to the task of investing to create good jobs in a more productive, fair and sustainable economy.

Direct federal government program spending will fall by $4 billion in the coming fiscal year, the result of deep spending cuts already announced in the last budget combined with some tiny increases in the new budget.

Ironically, the Parliamentary Budget Officer was in court seeking details of the 2012 spending cuts just as Budget 2013 was introduced.

The new budget disappoints on a number of important fronts. 

The outright elimination of the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) is simply mean-spirited and further evidence that this government has no interest in an effective contribution to international development. 

Despite the best efforts of the cities, the new public infrastructure investment program falls well short of what was asked for, and will not even maintain current spending. Farewell to any hopes of a major expansion of public transit systems and renewal of basic environmental infrastructure.

Modest measures are announced to help the hard hit manufacturing sector, but there is precisely zero in the budget to specifically support job creation in new environmental technologies, clean energy and energy conservation. Nor does the budget have anything say about adding value to Canadian resources before they are exported.

For this government, the new manufacturing economy is centered on the defense sector. New funds are announced to support aerospace, including through targeted defense procurement.

Minor measures are announced to address the pressing needs of First Nations. But an additional $155 million over ten years to support First Nations infrastructure is, to say the very least, grossly inadequate. Nor was anything of substance done to advance First Nations educational opportunities.

If credit is to be given to the Harper government, it is for introducing a raft of proposed changes to the tax system aimed squarely at reducing tax avoidance by corporations and the affluent, including through the use of offshore tax havens.

The budget also announced some concrete and worthwhile measures to expand access to apprenticeship training.

However, the overall skills training agenda raises a lot of issues and there is a real danger that putting employers in control of $2.5 billion of federal spending will divert resources which should be helping the most marginalized Canadians. It is far from clear that the new Canada Job Grant will support high quality, portable, certified training for jobs to help workers sind jobs in highly skilled occupations.

With the exception of some action on the disabilities file, the budget fails to address the pressing social issues of poverty, rising inequality, precarious work, and the impact on middle-class families of cuts to public services like health care and education by cash-strapped provincial governments.

It is passing strange that a government that has promoted small popular boutique tax cuts now plans to levy the GST on parking at hospitals and post-secondary institutions.

No budget was going to convince progressive Canadians that they had the wrong take on the priorities of the Harper government.

But this one reinforces the view that they have no vision for how to build a fair and sustainable Canada.