Budget offers little for homeless, aboriginals
Published Monday, March 19, 2007 4:17PM EDT
Last Updated Friday, May 18, 2012 5:54PM EDT
OTTAWA - The Conservative budget that promised something for everyone all but excludes the poorest of the poor.
There's also little relief for single taxpayers or childless couples. The bulk of those tax breaks went to families with young children.
New cash for aboriginals and affordable housing is conspicuously scant or missing altogether. And another $250 million a year dangled to provinces that agree to create child-care spaces still falls well short of the $1.2 billion promised by the former Liberal government in each of the next three years.
Loftily entitled Aspire, the Tory government's second budget is a crowd-pleaser flush with $6 billion in direct new program spending. But of that, just $70 million will go to aboriginal people over the next two years for job training, to enhance the Aboriginal Justice Strategy and to help First Nations join the East Coast commercial fishery.
Those relatively paltry sums are eclipsed by tax cuts and fiscal perks aimed at a raft of more politically popular targets.
New spending committed this fiscal year for native causes totals $21 million. By comparison, the government expects to spend about $15 million allowing long-haul truck drivers to deduct 80 per cent of meal costs from their taxes.
Finance Minister Jim Flaherty defended the tiny increase by pointing out that Ottawa already spends about $9 billion on native programs. He added that Phil Fontaine, the national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, lobbied for more money for skills development.
Fontaine also called for urgent help to fill the funding gap between the money Ottawa pays to honour historic treaties, and the extent to which native population growth has outstripped that support.
The budget contains no new cash to repair, let alone replace, housing on more than 600 reserves that the auditor general has warned is increasingly decrepit. Woeful native education and health service standards were also swept aside by higher priorities.
"There are some genuinely dire needs among First Nations people,'' says Ellen Russell, a senior economist with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. "And we need to put some money there.
"That's a whole sector of the population who are falling farther and farther behind.''
The centre's alternative budget this year called for $6.1 billion in spending for First Nations over three years.
Russell is equally concerned about Canada's lagging performance on child care. While Monday's budget commits $250 million a year in per capita funding to help provinces create child-care spaces, she says it doesn't go far enough.
Canada ranks at the bottom of global economic powerhouses when it comes to investment in early learning, Russell notes.
"You can easily spend in the billions creating a genuine national child-care program for kids younger than six. Splitting $250 million among all those provinces...is not going to do it.
"We're missing the boat on this in a big way. Research connects early learning with all kinds of education and production benefits that spin off later on. And it allows people to show up for work if they know their children are well cared for.''