Vision and the Commitment to a Green Economic Future

Elizabeth May

That's the headline I would have liked. It certainly fits the economic numbers from this morning's Globe and Mail:

  • $11 billion: spending to modernize the electricity grid and build power lines to transmit clean, renewable energy from new sources;
  • $8 billion: loans for renewable energy power generation and transmission projects;
  • $6.2 billion: help for low-income families to reduce their energy costs by insulating their homes.
Those numbers are, of course, from the Obama economic stimulus plan.

Mr. Harper's 2009 budget is devoid of vision, innovation, or anything green. While more money is spent, it can be hardly called a stimulus plan -- and certainly not one that will move Canada towards a move sustainable course, as President Obama has charted for the U.S. The contrast between the Obama and Harper plans is stunning.

It does involve tax cuts, but no offsetting revenue to avoid a structural deficit. It talks about infrastructure, but doesn't even mention mass transit funding for municipalities, brownfields and only passing mention of water works systems. The net result is not a commitment to a more sustainable future, but rather just more of the same (but with a few more dollars attached).

Words you won't find: invest in renewable energy, mass transit, brownfields.

Words you will find: highways (including twinning the highway through Banff Natonal park), bridges, energy projects in the North.

The $12 billion for infrastructure spending is described as "roads, bridges, small craft harbours, broadband internet access, electronic health records, laboratories and border crossings." Labs turns out to be money to upgrade the government labs in the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, salmon enhancement and the forest service -- how is that an economic stimulus? Similarly the welcome money for VIA rail is to deal with deferred maintainance. It does add some new sidings to deal with congestion in the Windsor Quebec corridor, but is primarily about upgrades to engines, cars and stations.

Canadians are offered a lot of colourful trinkets. There will be tax rebates for building on a family room or renovating your kitchen. There is a bit more money into the home energy retrofit program, but no focused effort to reduce GHG as part of a stimulus package.

It surely gets us into a huge deficit, but the plan to get out of that deficit is shaky, depending almost entirely on increased consumer spending and an improved GDP. The $2 billion assumption for sale of federal assets is still there and essential to get out of deficit. The assets to be sold are still not named.

Women's pay equity is still to be removed just as in November. They did take out the attack on public funding of political parties. But the budget remains targeted towards the Conservative base. Cities are ignored. Even the home renovation program is only available to families, not single people. In the rare instance where specific projects are mentioned, they are targeted to Conservative-held ridings, such as the very specific "completion of the Nova Scotia Highway 104 Antigonish Bypass Phase 2 project", among others.

There is nothing for seniors worried about their retirement income, although there is some help for low income seniors. The Registered Retirement Income Fund is left at the 25% withdrawal stated in November.

What's good? There are some improvements to EI, but not to remove the 2 week waiting period. There is some money for low cost housing -- $1 billion over two years, to be cost shared with provinces on a 50-50 basis, for renovations and energy retrofits on up to 200,000 units, and another $875 over two years for construction of low income housing for First Nations, persons with disabilities and low income seniors. It is a drop in the bucket. Moreover, making these funds on a cost-share basis is a non-starter for provincial and municipal partners (which would require provincial or property tax increases to match the funds). And, there is no new low income housing except for seniors, people with disabilities and First Nations.

There is a lot of money to ease the credit crunch, mostly going to banks -- $200 billion to the banks. Small business financing in contrast gets only $300 million.

Is this the budget the country needs? No. It is so far from what Canadians need, what our economy needs, what our seniors need, what the planet needs, that it makes me both angry and devastated.