Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland’s expansive budget mentions a “pipeline for vaccines,” a “talent pipeline,” an “innovation pipeline,” and a “pipeline of personal protective equipment.” But there is not a single mention of a pipeline that delivers oil or gas.
Along with a lack of concern for workers in the oil-and-gas industry, the budget undersells defence priorities. And the Liberal pledge to move toward a national pharmacare program is, to put it charitably, unconvincing.
The budget, in other words, tells us what Liberals do care about, but also what they don’t.
This budget offers billions to accelerate progress toward a strategy to reach net zero carbon emissions and to help green-tech businesses scale up. There are major tax breaks for companies that invest in green technologies.
But while future tax breaks are promised for industries that deploy carbon-capture technology, the commitment is vague and based on future consultations and legislation. The budget appears determined to ignore the reality that natural resources, and in particular the oil and gas sector, are crucial both to this country’s economic future and to fighting climate change.
In a post-budget reaction, the Business Council of Alberta stated that the budget “comes up woefully short,” by failing to make natural resources part of the solution to Canada’s economic and environmental challenges.
The budget also ignores the fact that in recent months, U.S. President Joe Biden has vetoed the Keystone XL pipeline and the Michigan government moved to shut down Enbridge’s Line 5 over environmental concerns.
In fairness, the government-owned Trans Mountain pipeline is on schedule for completion next year. But that’s an old commitment. In this budget, the government’s fascination with green energy has left workers in the petroleum sector swinging in the wind. There doesn’t even appear to be any industry-specific funding to help workers retrain for other careers.
The Liberals used to say that it was possible to reduce carbon emissions while also encouraging oil and gas production. That is a circle they appear no longer willing to square.
National defence is another area singled out for neglect. When Mr. Biden met Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in February, both leaders committed to modernizing the North American Aerospace Defence Command. But the budget allocates a paltry $50-million a year or so for five years as Canada’s commitment to a modernizing program, a tiny fraction of the many billions of dollars that defence experts estimate it would cost to install the satellites, radar and other technologies needed to detect hypersonic missiles and other new weapons that the Russians and the Chinese possess or are developing.
The funds – or lack of them – committed to NORAD in this budget suggest that the Americans will get from Canada, once again, all aid short of help.
Then there is the silence on pharmacare. The Liberals’ 2019 election manifesto promised “to take the crucial next steps to implement national universal pharmacare,” while last September’s Throne Speech declared “the government remains committed to a national, universal pharmacare program and will accelerate steps to achieve this system.”
But the budget, while repeating its commitment to a national pharmacare program, offers no new funding for it. There is simply the previously announced $500-million to assist provinces in support of those forced to pay extremely high prices for drugs needed to combat rare diseases.
The Liberals could respond that their ambitious new child-care program makes it impossible to move on pharmacare right now. And it would be a fair defence. A national $10-a-day child care program would be a major new commitment and a major federal expense, at $8-billion a year.
Before committing to it, however, provincial governments might wish to remember previous programs, especially in health care and housing, in which Ottawa seduced the provinces into joining on an equal shared-cost basis, only to later withdraw funding when some shiny new public policy bauble came along, leaving the provinces holding the fiscal bag.
Whatever happens on the child care front, the budget’s virtual silence on pharmacare suggests that program, like NORAD and oil and gas, is something this government doesn’t plan on spending real time and money on any time soon.
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