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Pandemic budget extends COVID-19 aid until fall

Darpan News Desk The Canadian Press, 19 Apr, 2021 08:38 PM
  • Pandemic budget extends COVID-19 aid until fall

The first federal budget in more than two years extends Ottawa’s COVID-19 "lifeline" for workers and struggling businesses another few months as it aims to pull Canada through the pandemic once and for all.

Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland’s first crack at a budget plan is also widely viewed as a pre-election platform with more than $100 million in new spending over the next three years targeting a wide variety of voters, from seniors and their caregivers, to parents and business owners.

"This budget is about finishing the fight against COVID," Freeland said, in her budget-day speech. "It's about healing the economic wounds left by the COVID recession. And it's about

creating more jobs and prosperity for Canadians in the days and decades to come."

The government will need to get at least one opposition party to support it to avoid a pandemic election this spring.

Canada’s net debt is now over $1 trillion for the first time ever, after a $354 billion deficit for the pandemic year just over. It is expected to keep climbing with deficits of $155 billion this year, and $60 billion in 2022-23.

That is driven in part by more than $100 million in new spending over the next three years, including costs to maintain federal wage and rent subsidies and aid for laid-off workers, until September now, instead of cutting them off in June.

Freeland is also looking ahead to the post-pandemic Canada the Liberals want to see, one that has $10-a-day childcare, the ability to produce its own vaccines, national long-term care standards and small- and medium-sized businesses equipped with the workers and technology they need to survive.

It also includes a greener, cleaner Canada, with a promise of more than $17 billion in climate change programs, much of it in the form of incentives to encourage heavy industry to curb their emissions and grow Canada's clean technology sector.

All of it comes with a pandemic-sized asterisk that things could still change drastically if vaccine supplies are delayed or they prove not to work that well against emerging variants of the virus. The budget includes alternative scenarios that show where the fiscal picture might go if the worst-case scenarios of the pandemic play out.

Those risks seem even more real as the country is battling the worst wave of the pandemic yet with record hospitalizations and patients in critical care, and doctors and nurses warning repeatedly of a health care system on the brink of collapse.

Freeland acknowledged the weight the pandemic continues to bear on Canadians.

"We are all tired, and frustrated, and even afraid,” she said. "But we will get through this."

The pandemic has thrown everything off course for more than a year, including the plan the Liberals intended to use after the 2019 election. For the Liberals first four budgets, every one went with a title about the middle class — growing it, investing in it, making it stronger.

This time, Freeland — who is making history as the first female finance minister to table a federal budget — went with "A recovery plan for jobs, growth and resilience."

That plan focuses on helping some of those hit hardest in the last year — sectors like tourism, as well as low-wage workers, small and medium-sized businesses, women and young people.

The federal government is diving into the deep end of child care, promising billions in new spending for provinces to create spaces and drive down fees.

The Liberals’ 2021 budget doesn’t commit or estimate how many new spaces could be created by the spending, focusing instead on the cost to parents.

The plan would aim to see an average drop in fees next year by 50 per cent for preschooler daycare spaces that last year ranged from about $451 per month in Winnipeg to $1,250 a month in Toronto.

Eventually, the Liberals aim to have an average fee of $10 a day across the country outside of Quebec, which has its own system.

The proposal addresses calls not only from advocates but from business groups as well, to help thousands of mothers return to the labour force after their numbers dwindled due to daycare closures during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland says in her budget speech the plan won’t deliver instant gratification, noting it is a long-term strategy that will take countrywide effort to invest in children and young parents.

“I make this promise to Canadians today, speaking as your finance minister and as a working mother: We will get it done,” she says in the advance text of her speech.

Spending would start at just over $3 billion a year, not taking into account the government’s pre-existing 10-year spend on child care unveiled four years ago.

Funding rises from there to reach almost $8.4 billion in new spending annually by 2026. The budget projections stop at that point, after what the document describes as an initial five-year agreement designed to have the federal government cover half of national child-care funding.

The first five years will focus on support for not-for-profit providers, leaving out for-profit centres and unregulated care.

After that, the budget says the government will work with provinces and territories to revisit funding needs based on what the money has purchased to that point.

“This is going to be an enduring investment in making it possible for parents, and especially women to participate in the labour force,” Freeland said at a news conference.

“I really do not want to understate either the complexity and the difficulty of building early-learning and child care, nor to understate how transformational this will be for women, for all parents, for children and for the Canadian economy.”

he federal Liberal government’s first budget in more than two years makes big promises on child care, the environment and readying the country’s economy for a post-pandemic rebound. But there is also a veritable grab bag of smaller promises as well. Here are some of the more interesting:

— $100 million over three years for innovative mental health interventions for populations disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, including health-care workers, front-line workers, youth, seniors, Indigenous people, and racialized and Black Canadians.

— $50 million over two years for those suffering from PTSD and other mental-health trauma from COVID-19.

— $28.6 million over five years, and $5.7 million per year ongoing, to address antimicrobial resistance.

— $82.5 million this year to help Canadian airports better test for COVID-19, $6.7 million to acquire and use sanitization equipment, and $271 million for pandemic screening efforts.

— $57.6 million to help employers offset the costs of isolating temporary foreign workers upon their arrival in Canada.

— $656.1 million over five years, and $123.8 million ongoing, to the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) to modernize Canada’s borders, including touchless and automated systems, contraband detection systems and infrastructure security.

— $9.9 million over two years for the Canadian Space Agency to plan the next generation of Earth-observation satellites.

— $17.6 million over five years, and $3.4 million per year ongoing, to create a Data Commissioner that would help government and business protect people’s personal data and encourage innovation in the digital marketplace.

— $60 million over the next two years to protect wetlands and trees on farms, and $10 million over the next two years to power farms with clean energy.

— $25 million to the Northwest Territories to support the construction of 30 new public housing units across the territory, and $25 million to Nunavut to redevelop and refurbish about 100 new housing units.

— $45 million over two years to pilot a program aimed at reducing veteran homelessness.

— $200 million through the regional development agencies to support major festivals, and $200 million through Canadian Heritage to support local festivals, community cultural events, outdoor theatre performances, museums, amateur sport events, and more.

— $500 million to create a tourism relief fund to support investments by local tourism businesses in adapting to and recovering from COVID-19.

— $300 million over two years to establish a recovery fund for the heritage, arts, culture, heritage and sport sectors and $70 million over three years to help the live-music sector.

— $21 million in 2021-22 to support CBC/Radio-Canada through the pandemic.

— $39.3 million over two years to the book industry.

— $101 million over two years to help wineries adapt to ongoing and emerging challenges.

— $200 million to establish a fund to combat anti-Black racism and improve social and economic outcomes in Black communities.

— $15 million over three years for a new fund to address challenges facing the LTBTQ community.

— $116 million over two years to address the opioid epidemic and other substance-abuse concerns.

— $45 million over three years to make sexual and reproductive health care information and services more accessible for vulnerable populations.

— $15.4 million over two years to support the creation of a national autism strategy.

— Notice that the government plans to start taxing vaping products, and a $4-per-carton increase on excise duties for cigarettes.

— $14.9 million over four years to support the preservation of Indigenous heritage through Library and Archives Canada.

— $14.3 million over five years to ensure Indigenous women and girls have access to sports activities.

— $126.7 million over three years to prevent racism and discrimination in health-care systems. This funding will support patient advocates, health system navigators, and cultural safety training for medical professionals.

— $74.8 million over three years to improve access to justice for Indigenous people and address systemic discrimination and the overrepresentation of Indigenous people in the justice system.

— $13.4 million over five years, with $2.4 million ongoing, to commemorate the history and legacy of residential schools.

— $180.4 million over three years to support student bilingualism across the country.

— $312 million over five years, and $41.4 million ongoing, to implement legislation targeting gun violence, smuggling and trafficking.

— $85.3 million over five years to support independent legal advice and representation for victims of sexual assault, as well as to support pilot projects for victims of intimate partner violence.

— $20.7 million over five years for the RCMP to pursue online child sexual exploitation investigations.

— $40.4 million over five years, and $10 million ongoing, to support up to 25 additional drug treatment courts.

— $75 million over five years, and $13.5 million ongoing, to the RCMP to combat systemic racism through new recruitment and training processes, community engagement and other measures.

— $154.6 million to limit the spread of COVID-19 in federal correctional institutions.

— $5.6 million over five years to commemorate the victims of Ukraine International Airlines PS752 and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302, including through the development of scholarships.

— Save $1.1 billion over five years, and $222.5 million per year ongoing, by cutting back on government travel.

The budget also commits $34.5 million more to a federal secretariat that is guiding policy work inside the government, and the creation of a national advisory council to highlight needs, concerns and issues in the sector.

And it also promises legislation by the fall to enshrine the spending into law so it cannot be easily undone or watered down by a change in government or cabinet priorities.

Here are some highlights from her speech, as well as quotes from opposition leaders.

Crisis and recovery

"This budget is about finishing the fight against COVID. It's about healing the economic wounds left by the COVID recession. And it's about creating more jobs and prosperity for Canadians in the days – and decades – to come."

Government spending

"Some will say our sense of urgency is misplaced. Some will say that we are spending too much. To them, I ask this: Did you lose your job during a COVID lockdown? Were you reluctantly let go by your small-business employers, who were like a family to you, but simply could not afford your salary any longer?"

Long-term care

"We have failed so many of those living in long-term care facilities. To them, and to their families, let me say this: I am so sorry. We owe you so much better than this."

Child care

"The closing of our schools and daycares drove women's participation in the labour force down to its lowest level in more than two decades. Early learning and child care has long been a feminist issue; COVID has shown us that it is an urgent economic issue, too."

Environment

"We are at a pivotal moment in the green transformation. We can lead, or we can be left behind. Our government knows that the only choice for Canada is to be in the vanguard."

Economic growth

"Canada is a young, vast country, with a tremendous capacity for growth. This budget will fuel that. These are investments in our future, and they will yield great dividends. In today's low interest rate environment, not only can we afford these investments, it would be short-sighted of us not to make them."

Here are some highlights from Chrystia Freeland's speech, as well as quotes from opposition leaders, Crisis and recovery: 

Before the budget was released, opposition leaders shared their expectations.

Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole said he wants a blueprint for getting Canada back to fiscal balance.

“Conservatives have a plan to do that over the next decade so that we don't burden our children and our grandchildren with out-of-control debt.”

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh reiterated his position that a pandemic is no time for an election campaign.

“We are worried about people. We are going to continue to fight for people … But I'm going to be responsible and make sure that I'm making a decision that does not in any way jeopardize the health of Canadians. So, we are not interested in triggering an election.''

Pushing the private sector to develop clean technology — and heavy emitters to adopt it — is where billions in new money will flow from the Liberals’ 2021 budget pledge unveiled Mondayto tackle climate change.

Around $17 billion is promised to be spent in the years ahead to promote a “green” recovery out of the COVID-19 pandemic and create jobs.

Included in that is $5 billion more into a fund meant to be spent on projects used by industry to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.

The government says that will be spread out over seven years and is on top of the $3 billion announced when the Liberals unveiled their plan to reach net-zero emissions by 2050.

Sarah Petrevan, a policy director at Clean Energy Canada, says the total $8 billion will help heavy industries like steel and cement decarbonize and grow their competitiveness.

"Government's role is to kind of set the stage for then private markets to develop and shift in the direction, and this is kind of what (Liberals) are doing," she said of the budget.

"That's the kind of thing that you have to do support an economic transition. It can't all be government."

Another measure targeting heavy emitters is a new tax incentive to encourage companies to adopt technology that traps carbon dioxide into the ground from fuel combustion instead of seeing it released into the atmosphere.

The government says it will soon begin consultations on designing a tax credit for capital spent on carbon capture and storage technology in hopes of increasing how many million tonnes Canada traps annually.

Stewart Elgie, a law and economics professor at the University of Ottawa, says carbon capture is one of the important low-carbon technologies the Liberals have honed in on, same with hydrogen, but there are others also needing support.

"The recovery from the last economic downturn led to record global increases in greenhouse gas emissions, so it's really important that we don't repeat that mistake."

Making the country a hub for clean technology is among the priorities Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has outlined in his approach to climate. The Liberals also want to adopt policies that make Canada go over and above its international commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030.

“I don’t see a big ambitious program that will lead us to zero emissions with strict targets,” said Genevieve Tellier of the University of Ottawa, who focuses on budget policies and public finances.

She added a lot of the new climate spending comes in the form of grants, so it’s being left up to private businesses to come to government with ideas.

Tellier suggests that's not likely to woo potential voters who want to see more action on climate change if the minority Parliament heads into an election.

Greenpeace Canada said the spending plan fails to address the country's reliance on fossil fuels, which the environmental organization 350 Canada also echoed.

Tellier says the budget leaves looming questions about how Western Canada is supposed to transition away from oil and gas. However, Elgie said clean technologies like hydrogen and carbon capture are priorities for Alberta.

Building off of what was promised in the fall economic statement and in hopes of reducing people’s energy bills, Ottawa is also promising to send around $4 billion over five years to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. to offer interest-free loans of up to $40,000 for households to do green retrofits.

Other climate initiatives include a 50 per cent 10-year reduction on corporate and small business income tax rates for companies manufacturing zero-emissions technologies, such as solar panels and electric buses.

It will also establish the first federal green bond with an issuance target of $5 billion. The goal is to attract investors to finance ways to fight climate change, like through green infrastructure.

Getting more electric vehicles on the road is a priority for the Liberals under its net-zero emissions plan and the budget promises $56 million over five years to work with countries like the United States on bringing in standards for zero-emission vehicle charging and refuelling stations.

There's also millions to fund research and decide on policy around how Canada's mineral reserves can be used to support electric vehicle batteries and other net-zero technologies.

Although the government says reducing emissions will help all Canadians, a gender-based analysis in the budget says men will likely benefit from growth in the clean energy sector because they make up most of its workforce, same with the new climate spending on science and research.

It also says employees in manufacturing tend to be men, and those who are middle-aged high-income earners have been the early adopters of zero-emission vehicles, according to data.

Starting in 2022, the spending plan says Ottawa will start sending rebates to residents in Saskatchewan, Ontario, Alberta and Manitoba — all subject to paying the federal carbon price — on a quarterly basis, instead of annually on personal income tax returns.

Monday's budget also promises $2.3 billion in funding to federal departments like Parks Canada and Fisheries and Oceans to conserve up to one million square kilometres more land and inland waters to meet the country’s 2025 conservation targets.

Elgie called the Liberals' overall spending on nature conservation important not only because it protects wildlife and biodiversity, but helps the climate as well.

The federal budget is promising billions to close gaps in long-term care and Canada’s vaccine production laid bare by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland said the pandemic preyed "mercilessly" on Canada's most vulnerable seniors and it cannot be allowed to happen again.

“We have failed so many of those living in long-term care facilities," she said in her budget-day speech in the House of Commons.

"To them, and to their families, let me say this. I am so sorry. We owe you so much better than this.”

To begin to fix it, the government is promising $3 billion over the next five years to help provinces implement new standards. The funds won't begin to flow until next year, after those standards are in place.

Freeland said they will be based on work underway by the Canadian Standards Association and the Health Standards Organization, which began last month.

The CSA is seeking to establish normal practices for the physical design and operations of long-term care homes, including ventilation, while the HSO is looking at infection control, safety and quality of care.

Outbreaks of COVID-19 ran rampant through Canada's long-term care homes, infecting more than 53,000 residents and 27,000 workers.

More than 15,000 residents died, almost two-thirds of Canada’s total death toll from the pandemic to date.

Provincial governments have jurisdiction for long-term care, so any funding from Ottawa would have to be sent to them. The Canada Health Act does not currently include long-term care, making it difficult for Ottawa to use existing health transfers to help push any specific standards for care.

It is not clear yet exactly how the funds will flow or what provinces will have to agree to do, but the budget does promise to respect provincial jurisdiction.

“This work would ensure seniors and those in care live in safe and dignified conditions,” the budget plan says.

The budget also seeks to fix Canada's gaping hole in vaccine production, with $2.2 billion over the next seven years, split up through various funds and programs for research and capital investments.

That includes $500 million for capital and infrastructure at universities and research hospitals, and $1 billion in Strategic Innovation Fund money to help the most promising life science and biomanufacturing companies.

However, the funds are split over so many years there could be two or even three elections by the time they're supposed to be spent, and the budget provides scant detail on how the funds would flow or what kind of production capacity they would generate.

While Canada's vaccinate rate has improved — it's now vaccinating a bigger share of its population per day than any other G20 country except the United States — it got off to a very slow start and that's largely because it can't make any COVID-19 vaccines at home yet.

The Liberals have said that is because the strong biomanufacturing industry Canada used to have up and left for more supportive countries over the last 30 years.

Instead, Canada is at the mercy of other countries for its entire supply of vaccines right now, leaving Canada to wait and watch some of its allies get vaccines into arms and return to a more normal life much faster.

The budget also provides some money to address the mental health crises erupting from the COVID-19 pandemic, and small amounts for palliative care and to ensure access to medical assistance in dying.

 

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