There is a lot for progressives to like in the Speech from the Throne – promises of major new federal investments in child care, health care, including pharmacare, green jobs, affordable housing, training, the future of first nations, and so on. But experience tells us that we should wait until the next budget before breaking out the bubbly.
Liberal governments are very good at promises, and they seem to have heeded calls to be bold. But we have seen many of these promises many times, not least the promise to build a national early learning and child care program which dates back to the election of the Chretien government back in 1992, almost thirty years ago.
The Speech, as expected, outlines an immediate response to the pandemic which is very far from being over. One can argue that it seems to respond positively to immediate needs, while also noting that is taking far too much time to deal with the crisis in long term care homes which killed thousands of seniors last Spring.
We are now going into a second wave with little further clarity about what will replace the CERB income support program for many families still dealing with high unemployment and short hours. It looks as though some workers will not get into a revamped Employment Insurance program, and that benefits will be cut from the CERB level of $2000 per month.
The pivot to building back better, to fixing the long-standing cracks in our social and income support programs revealed by the pandemic, is very much present in the speech. It outlines a broad reform agenda. But it says almost nothing about financing.
It is quite appropriate to run large deficits to deal with the health, social and employment impacts of the crisis and to fund new investments to replace lost jobs. But we cannot build a strong social safety net for the long term without a long term plan to raise the needed revenues.
Here the Speech disappoints. There is a reference to the need to “tax extreme wealth inequality” but that turns out to mean only fairer taxation of stock options (promised by the Liberals back in the election of 2016), rather than a wealth tax or closing down tax loopholes for the top 1% such as the low tax rate on capital gains.
Similarly, there is a call for limiting corporate tax avoidance, but this applies only to the digital giants (as promised before) and the government is talking about further cutting corporate tax rates as part of the job creation strategy.
And the social agenda cannot really be described as bold and comprehensive.
Pharmacare is mentioned, but very much subject to finding willing provinces. The future of post secondary education is not mentioned. There is nothing on long-term income support reform. The call for a national early learning and child care program is there, but with few specifics and certainly no firm financial commitment.
Those who have called for a green jobs agenda led by the federal government will find some encouraging words, including commitments to building retrofits programs and production of zero emission vehicles.
The government is also making a commitment to greater equality for women in the job market, including through a new task force. And the speech addresses the need for programs to promote greater equality for racialized Canadians.
With only a minority government, the Liberals have tacked left. To what extent that turn translates into action will be revealed in the next budget.
Andrew Jackson is the former Chief Economist of the Canadian Labour Congress and the Senior Policy Advisor to the Broadbent Institute.
Majority say they may not vote Liberal if government does not announce changes
New information from a survey commissioned by the Broadbent Institute shows that a majority of Canadians (54 per cent) want to see the federal government announce bold new ideas for how to fundamentally improve people’s lives and deal with climate change in next week’s throne speech. The desire for major changes is consistent across Canada and across the political spectrum. This is likely informed by the fact that only 19 per cent of Canadians think the worst of the pandemic is behind us and 65 per cent believe the pandemic has highlighted problems with how the economy and social programs are run that require major changes.
The survey, carried out by Abacus Data, also shows there is a political price to pay for inaction. Half say they will definitely or probably not vote Liberal if they do not present a plan with new ideas.
“Nearly half of Canadians think the worst of this pandemic is yet to come,” says Rick Smith, executive director of the Broadbent Institute. “People are worried, they want to see major action to address this worry, and there will be a political price to pay for any political party that doesn’t act accordingly.”
According to Canadians, the plan should include:
- Help to build up Canada’s ability to produce key products like food and medical supplies domestically (74 per cent).
- Investments to strengthen our health system including universal public pharmacare (70 per cent).
- Focuses on helping people and doesn’t allow corporations to set the agenda and benefit the most from the recovery (67 per cent).
- Increasing or creating new taxes on Canada’s richest people (60 per cent).
“The pandemic has highlighted many aspects of the economy and society that Canadians feel are not working right. From finding a good job to preparing for retirement to finding affordable housing – many recognize that the pandemic has made life harder,” says David Coletto, chief executive officer of Abacus Data. “There is clear majority support for new ideas to improve the problems the pandemic has exposed. Most Canadians expect strong action from the government.”
- 45 per cent of Canadians believe the worst of the pandemic is still to come, while only 19 per cent believe the worst is behind us.
- The survey found broad support for a new wealth tax on the wealthiest multi-millionaires and billionaires in Canada (76 per cent) and for a new tax on corporations who have made large profits during the pandemic (73 per cent).
- Most Canadians think the economic and social well-being of youth, racialized Canadians, and women have been negatively impacted. In contrast, almost all Canadians (82 per cent) believe that the wealth of Canada’s richest people is better off or has not been impacted by the pandemic.
- Report: David Coletto, Abacus Data. Canadians Expect Bold Action To Deal With The Economic And Social Impact Of The Pandemic.
- Research: Abacus Data and Broadbent Institute. Most Canadians Want To See Bold New Ideas In Post-COVID Recovery Agenda.
About the Broadbent Institute
The Broadbent Institute is Canada’s leading progressive, independent organization championing change through the promotion of democracy, equality, and sustainability and the training of a new generation of leaders.
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