Community Feedback on the 2010 Budget

On Saturday March 6th, London North Centre MP Glen Pearson (Liberal) & London-Fanshawe MP Irene Mathyssen (NDP), were the co-hosts of a London community townhall discussion of the 2010 Federal Budget (tabled in the House of Commons on Thursday March 4th)
Although Mr. Pearson was called away to meetings in Toronto on Canada’s continuing relief efforts in Haiti, his London staff attended to bring the community’s feedback to his attention.

Joe Swan, of Orchestra London moderated the cordial discussion. MP Mathyssen opened the meeting with a brief overview of the 2010 budget.
"I think it’s very important to have this dialogue about the budget with your MP. I do want to say that out initial intent was to do a pre-budget consultation, but time did not permit. I was very concerned that the visit by the minister of finance to London yesterday excluded many people because of the $60.00 cost of that lunch time meeting. I believe people should have free access to parliamentarians and absolutely believe in free access to government when it comes to such an important policy instrument as a budget," Mathyssen said.

"Just so you don’t think that I found nothing good in the budget, I must say that there were some items the caucus and I felt positive about.

• The creation of a new civilian, independent review and complaints commission for the RCMP is something New Democrats have been asking for over the past several years. We hope it will be an effective watchdog to ensure that the members of the RCMP and the public can feel confident about our national police force.

• the promise that infrastructure spending would continue to 2011 and to get money flowing in a more timely fashion.

• the government has recognized that the child tax benefit is inadequate. While the extra $3.25 a week is far too little, there has at least been recognition that some families with children are struggling.

I do however have a number of concerns. Chief among them is the fragile nature of Canada’s economic recovery. The 2010 budget predicts a 0.2% increase in the unemployment rate for the coming year. Despite that there are no additional dollars for job creation. It offers no significant changes to Employment Insurance beyond small improvements to work sharing that extend the maximum length of work-sharing programs to 78 weeks, no extension of EI for unemployed workers who have exhausted their benefits and many will exhaust benefits in the next few weeks. To compound this problem, there are no concrete efforts to create the new and sustainable green jobs we so desperately need to secure both our economic future and protect the environment.

• Despite promising that they would protect retired workers in the case of corporate bankruptcies, there is nothing in the budget to improve pension protection; we believe it’s very important to increase the GIS. Nearly 300,000 seniors live below the poverty line. While there is a proposal to launch public consultations on pensions, there is no commitment to raise seniors out of poverty.

• Corporate tax cuts will continue as planned creating an even larger structural deficit and shifting the tax burden to individual citizens and their families. By 2012 Canada will have the lowest corporate tax rate in the G7. To put this into perspective, the individual income tax paid by Canadians was $116.0 billion in 2009. By 2014 it will be $150 billion.

• In terms of the environment, the government plans to take environmental assessments for energy projects away from environmental assessment agencies and give it to the National Energy Board and the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission. There is no action to fight climate change and Environment Canada will have $52 million cut from its budget over 3 years; no funding for the Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Science and no funding for the Federal Response to the Mountain Pine Beetle Infestation in British Columbia.

• The very much heralded changes to the Universal Child Care Benefit will give single parents only $168 more per year, without creating a single daycare space and no plan to make EI more accessible for women, no childcare plan.

• $100 million will be taken out of Canada Mortgage Housing Corporation each year over the next 3 years. The Homeless Partnering Strategy did not have its funding renewed past 2011."

Following Irene’s introduction and budget overview, the meeting was then turned over to the citizens of London for their questions and comments. Over the course of the two hour meeting, numerous issues and concerns were raised. Both Canadian Auto Workers representatives from three different locals, as well as Nortel Retirees raised the issue of pension protection in the case of bankruptcy, insuring workers today are able to receive the pensions to which they have contributed when they do retire, as well as the need to provide exemptions for holiday pay and severance packages from both corporate and government clawbacks when a company closes its doors.

It was noted that former Liberal MP Joe Fontana and NDP MP Pat Martin had introduced pension protection legislation which was passed by the House of Commons. To date, the current government has only had portions of this legislation proclaimed into law. This was a source of great frustration for those in attendance. It was clearly expressed to both MP Mathyssen and MP Pearson’s staff that once legislation is passed, the citizens of Canada expect their government to implement it.

Representatives from the Unity Project and the London Housing Advisory Committee also attended the meeting and raised the concern that housing funding was coming to an end in this budget, creating a vacuum in terms of federal commitments to affordable housing.

Concerns were also raised about the lack of childcare spaces, the tremendous cost of spaces once they are available, and the barriers this creates in terms of parents getting back into the workforce. Three different parents raised the concern that the childcare spaces which sometimes do become available are often comparable in cost annually to the cost of post-secondary education and wondered how they are expected to pay for childcare and save for their children’s future.

Lack of funding for immigrant settlement and integration programs was also raised as an issue, as well as the significant cuts made to Canada’s Foreign Aid commitment. Members of the African-Canadian community expressed passionately the need for after school programs and space for community gatherings, to help new immigrants settle and integrate into their new communities, as well as the benefit to public safety and policing costs when potential “at risk youth” are provided the appropriate support programs.

The cuts to public services was roundly opposed and people expressed the frustration they already have with long wait times for services through federal government departments (Citizenship and Immigration, along with Canada Revenue were two departments specifically mentioned).
Those in attendance were also asked to complete a “Budget Feedback Form” which asked 4 specific questions as well as providing a space for comments.

The results are as follows ( percentages based on total number of surveys received, not all questions were answered on all surveys, therefore not all percentages total 100%):

1) The government should raise the GST back to 7% to reduce the $56 billion (and growing) deficit.
63% agree 31% disagree

2) The Harper government has already lowered corporate taxes from 21% in 2007 to 18% today (the average Canadian pays about a 26% tax rate), the budget plans to further reduce corporate taxes to 15%. The corporations already get a good deal in Canada and the government should cancel the planned corporate tax cuts.
95% agree 5% disagree

3) Irene & Glen are right, Canada should be doing more for our seniors! I support using some of the savings from cancelling corporate tax cuts to double pension benefits for our seniors.
95% agree 5% disagree

4) Overall, the 2010 federal budget is on the right track.
11% agree 84% disagree

A sampling of the comments from Londoners:
• I would like the government to prove corporate tax cuts create jobs, I don’t see it!
• The budget doesn’t address a lot of the needs facing Canadians
• Tax cuts targeted to small business are good
• We need more help for the unemployed and real help for the homeless.
• More funding for green energy
• Housing, jobs, pensions, healthcare, immigration, these things are all linked together; we need a balanced approach.
• The Harper budget ignores working people and vulnerable populations and favours corporations and the rich. We need a budget that looks after the needs of seniors, women and children in poverty.
• Stop providing money to corporations! Canada needs to invest in children, youth, and seniors
• Well Done! We should have more of these community forums and all political parties should come and listen to us. No election now, spend that money on programs to help people
• I am glad you wanted to hear what people had to say about the budget and was glad to see members of more than one party here, please do this again.
• Real measures are needed to support women, children, and seniors, not just words! National housing program, national childcare program, and expanded Employment Insurance are priorities.
• Thank you for hosting this and listening to us, but we need an election to get rid of Harper.