Fresh from a weekend policy convention that showed federal Liberals absolutely, positively not planning for an early election, the Trudeau government is just days away from an April 19 budget that is widely expected to emphasize a national child care plan alongside a menu of green economic recovery measures.
The budget is set to land as two in five Canadians face economic anxiety, half say they’re worried someone in their household might lose their job, one in three say they’re worse off now than they were 12 months ago, and only 38% expect to live as well as their parents’ generation, the Angus Reid Institute reported late last month. And despite mounting pressure from fiscal conservatives to rein in the government’s spending plans, signs emanating from Ottawa suggest Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland is staying the course on much of the policy framework the government laid out through the fall.
But it isn’t at all clear how prominently green recovery measures will figure in those plans, or that the options the government chooses will be the right ones to drive a rapid transition off carbon.
“Senior government sources tell CBC News the budget will include items that balance pandemic measures with efforts to set the stage for the post-pandemic economic recovery—and clues to the budget’s contents can be found in last fall’s speech from the throne and the Fall Economic Statement (FES),” CBC reports. “The FES committed C$70 to $100 billion over three years to economic stimulus.”
“We’ve never been so transparent about our spending priorities and our fiscal track,” one senior government official told CBC. “It’s all there in the throne speech and FES.”
Both of those documents included serious emphasis on green recovery measures. But Ottawa’s updated climate plan still only commits to emission reductions that are fractionally above 31% by 2030, and has come in for sharp criticism from grassroot climate groups. Climate hawks have also been raising the alarm over a menu of emerging issues—from federal approaches to carbon capture and storage, fossil-derived hydrogen, nuclear fuel reprocessing, and carbon offsets, to the limited window of time remaining to strengthen and pass the government’s climate accountability legislation.
In what was widely described as a notably partisan speech during the Liberals’ weekend convention, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau took aim at the Opposition Conservatives’ inability to adopt a member resolution that even acknowledged the reality of climate change. “How disconnected do you have to be?” he asked.
The Star says the weekend policy convention also passed a non-binding resolution calling for a 10-year “national mobilization” for a “green new deal” aimed at hitting net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.
But most of the pre-budget news coverage has focused more on elements of a just transition than on a green one.
Citing government sources, CBC says the budget will likely include funds for a national early learning and child care system. On Thursday, Freeland told the Liberal convention the “incredibly dangerous” decline in women’s work force participation during the pandemic had “created a window of political opportunity and maybe an epiphany on the importance of early learning and child care”. Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc echoed that point in a weekend interview with CBC’s chief political correspondent Rosemary Barton.
“Access to safe early learning and child care, high-quality child care, we think is now an economic imperative,” he said. “It’s one social program done properly that has a direct impact on the growth of the Canadian economy.”
He said the government is also prepared to consider “any thoughtful policy proposition” on a universal basic income, another measure that gained the support of Liberal convention delegates.
CBC notes that a bigger supply of quality child care spaces “means more parents—especially women, who typically shoulder the largest share of child care responsibilities—can enter or re-enter the work force. Sources say the government sees it as a measure that eventually will pay for itself through increased productivity resulting from having more women in the work force.”
“This is the first budget of Canada’s first-ever female finance minister in the first self-declared feminist government amidst the first-ever global she-cession,” said economist Armine Yalnizyan, a member of the government’s task force on women in the economy. “There’s an opportunity here for a new narrative to be set out and a new way of doing things to be set out.”
The budget is also expected to set aside funds for long-term care, housing, and a modernized employment insurance system that opens doors for people who are self-employed or a part of the gig economy.
CBC says its sources also indicate that when Trudeau, Freeland, and others “talk about ‘building back better,’ they mean stimulus money will be aimed at building a greener, more sustainable economy. So look for investments in building charging stations for electric vehicles, retrofitting old-stock commercial buildings and homes, and helping natural resource industries transition to cleaner energy.”
The national broadcaster says Ottawa “hopes to create a domestic retrofit industry and supply chain for products such as energy-efficient windows and doors.”