Federal opposition leaders are criticizing the Liberal government’s first budget in two years for omitting pharmacare, while suggesting alternatives to a proposed $30-billion national childcare system.
Debate began in the House of Commons Tuesday with leaders pushing to shape the economic blueprint more to their liking. Federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh says he knows where he’s seen two of the Liberals’ signature budget promises before: his own party’s election platforms. Singh said the spending plan tabled by Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland heavily borrows from the New Democrats’ promise in 2015 and 2019 to introduce universal childcare. He said another commitment the NDP made first is the $15 federal minimum wage.
Despite his criticism, Singh has said he won’t do anything that would send the country into an election, as provinces deal with a deadly third wave of the coronavirus, driven by more transmissible strains of the virus. The Liberals need the support of at least one federal party for the budget to pass in the minority Parliament.
Singh cast doubt on whether Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government will deliver on its childcare pledge since the Liberals have been promising to improve the system since the 1990s. “How can Canadians believe them now?” Singh asked in the House of Commons.
Pharmacare is another piece missing from the 2021 spending plan, the NDP leader said, arguing the Liberals chose to please “Big Pharma” over working families.
As the official Opposition, the Conservatives plan to propose an amendment to the budget and the Bloc Quebecois, as the third-largest party, will propose a sub-amendment. Among other things, Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole indicated that would include an alternative to the budget’s centrepiece plan to invest nearly $30 billion over five years — and $8.3 billion a year thereafter — to create an affordable national early learning and childcare program. Conservatives, he says, prefer an approach that would allow parents to make their own childcare choices. That could mean increasing the Canada Child Benefit, rather than investing in childcare.
Bloc Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet has indicated that his party will attempt to redress what it sees as two “unacceptable omissions” in the budget: the failure to accede to premiers’ demand for an additional $28 billion each year in health-care transfer payments and the failure to provide increased old-age security benefits for all seniors.
“I don’t know what world Mr. Trudeau lives in, but all our MPs have been contacting us since yesterday to tell us the number of people aged 70, 75 who are extremely upset by this budget,” Blanchet said in French during a news conference. The budget actually promises a 10 per cent hike in old-age security for Canadians 75 years of age and over. But the Bloc wants that increase to apply to all seniors as of age 65.
Both O’Toole and Blanchet say their parties are prepared to vote against the budget, but it wasn’t clear whether either party’s proposed amendments will include an explicit statement of non-confidence in the government.