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Fall Economic Statement - some good news, but serious gaps remain

Ottawa (05 Nov. 2022) — There was some good news in the Fall Economic Statement that the federal government released this week, but what was in the statement is not enough to get Canadians through the recession. Contrary to what the Minister of Finance is claiming, many of the gaping holes in our social safety net that were exposed by the pandemic have not been fixed. It also looks like some of the measures in the Fall Economic Statement 2022 will repeat past mistakes.

Improving service delivery

What is encouraging is the additional funding to reduce waiting times for many of the programs and services that Canadians rely on. This includes additional funding to Service Canada to speed up the processing of Employment Insurance (EI) claims and Old Age Security (OAS) applications. There will also be additional funding for the Canada Revenue Agency and Veterans Affairs to speed up response times. 

For NUPGE members who are used to seeing politicians claim that we have to do more with less, it is refreshing to see a government acknowledge that providing the service the public deserves means increasing funding. 

Recognizing the need for action on climate change, job training and student debt

What was also positive was the announcement of increased funding for sustainable jobs and training. Adapting to a low carbon economy will create a lot of jobs, but to fill those jobs many workers will need training or opportunities to upgrade their skills. The announcement in the Fall Economic Statement was a step in the right direction.

What is a step backward, however, is that private for-profit schools will be included. Based on what has happened in the past, this is a mistake. There have been serious issues with for-profit schools in the past and when for-profit schools are used money that should be going to training workers is diverted to private profits.

On the positive side, interest will be eliminated on Canada Student Loans and Canada Apprentice Loans. Much more is needed – just as the failure of the Canada Health Transfer (CHT) to keep pace with costs is harming our heath care system, inadequate federal funding for post-secondary education in the Canada Social Transfer has made it harder for students to get the education they need. But eliminating interest on student and apprentice loans is a step in the right direction.

Gaping holes in our social safety net still haven’t been repaired

As NUPGE members working in the heath care system are all too aware, the problems caused by under-funding have been around for many years. But during the COVID-19 pandemic they became impossible to ignore.

The same is true with the EI system. Years of cuts and rule changes meant that many workers who lost their jobs didn’t receive help, but it wasn’t until the pandemic that the problem became too big to fix.

While there have been some small steps, serious problems with both our health care system and EI remain. The Minister of Finance’s suggestion that funding announcements over the last six years mean that Canada’s social safety is like a “a well-built house with a solid roof” doesn’t ring true for frontline workers. And if we do face a recession, there are real fears about whether many Canadians will get the help they need.

Little to help with health care

Beyond revisiting programs such as the Safe Restart Agreement and investments in public health measures, there is little in the Fall Economic Statement to help our beleaguered public health care system. The federal government statement that it is taking concrete steps toward the implementation of national, universal pharmacare is welcome. Unfortunately, past promises on universal pharmacare have not been fulfilled. The promise that  universal pharmacare legislation would be in place by the end of next year and that a formulary and bulk purchasing plan would be ready by June 2025 must be kept. But what is still missing are the funds and timelines for negotiations with the provinces on this critical social program. 
In this economic statement the federal government seemed more concerned with justifying the pandemic spending and past public health measures than acknowledging that the health care system is in chaos and needs fixing. It is important for this government to acknowledge that decades of austerity have left our health care system weak and vulnerable and that the pandemic has pushed health care workers over the edge. 

Without health care workers, there is no health care and all governments must act immediately to address the multiple crises affecting public health care in Canada. Canada needs a pan-Canadian health human resources strategy with funding to recruit, train and retain health care workers. Privatization initiatives which some provinces are supporting will make matters worse and exacerbate the labour shortages in the public system. Investments in public health care are needed now and the next federal budget must succeed where this economic statement failed. Canadians are demanding the protection and strengthening of our public health care system. 

Tax fairness measures that sound great and do very little

With the federal government needing money to help Canadians get through tough times, now would be a great time for major steps towards tax fairness. Unfortunately, when it comes to tax fairness, what’s in the Fall Economic Statement 2022 is nowhere near enough.

The Alternative Federal Budget 2022 by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) identified tax fairness measures that could bring in $89 billion a year when fully implemented. The Fall Economic Statement announced a 2% tax on corporate share buybacks. It’s a worthwhile measure, and will discourage one of the measures used to make the rich even richer, but it is nowhere near what is needed. In fact, it will bring in less than 1% of what the measures in the Alternative Federal Budget would have generated — and it won’t be implemented for another 14 months.