After the Trudeau government introduced its first budget last year, Canada’s unions were optimistic, but knew that much more would be needed to really build a fairer and more prosperous Canada. Infrastructure funding, and improvements to EI and the Guaranteed Income Supplement for seniors emerged as highlights in the 2016 budget.
But working Canadians and their families were left waiting for sustained funding for health care and child care, and action on other key campaign commitments.
Here are the top 10 things Canada’s unions are looking for in the 2017 federal budget:
1. Education and Training
This year, unions are looking for government to create good jobs and boost our economy through investment in education, apprenticeship, and skills training. A start would be for the government to do the following in 2017:
- Follow through on its commitment to mandate employers to train apprentices on federally-funded infrastructure projects;
- Expand pre-apprenticeship training programs, including plans to recruit more women and Indigenous people to apprenticeships and the skilled trades;
- Support provinces and territories to harmonize their apprenticeship systems;
- Reinstate the Fair Wages and Hours of Labour Act for federal government procurement and construction contracts;
- Lift the 2% cap on the Post-Secondary Student Support Program – the main mechanism by which status First Nation and Inuit students receive post-secondary financial assistance – and increase funding for the program.
Budget 2017 is also an opportunity for new investments in Canada’s literacy and essential skills sector. Unions are hoping to see funding and a willingness to partner to improve literacy and essential skills in the workplace.
2. Pharmacare and sustained, fair funding for health care
Canada is the only country with a public health care system that doesn’t include prescription drug coverage. As a result, we have the second-highest prescription drug costs in the world. Many Canadians stop taking the drugs they need because they can’t afford them. Unions are looking for government to commit to negotiating a national, universal, and single-payer prescription drug plan. Because no one should have to choose between filling their prescription and buying groceries.
The federal government also needs to commit to stable and long-term health care funding, and a national Health Accord that increases federal health transfers to the provinces and territories annually.
Investing in infrastructure is one of the best things government can do to create jobs, stimulate our economy and build greener, more equitable communities. Unions are looking to Budget 2017 for major, sustained investment in renewable energy, public transportation, and green building retrofits, with an emphasis on public financing rather than relying on costly public-private partnerships. Budget 2017 should also announce concrete steps towards negotiating Community Benefits Agreements on federally-funded infrastructure projects.
4. Child care
We all benefit when people can go to work knowing their kids have a safe place to play and learn, but today only one in five kids under five has access to a regulated child care space and fees exceed the cost of university tuition in most Canadian cities.
Budget 2017 needs to include stable, multi-year funding to build a system of quality, affordable child care for all families. Funding should be linked to an agreement between the federal, provincial and territorial governments to ensure money is used for child care and tied to the principles of the Shared Framework on child care. The budget should also include a separate stream of funding for Indigenous communities to design and deliver child care services, consistent with recommendations from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
5. Fairer, more accessible Employment Insurance
Unemployed Canadians still face issues with access and fairness when it comes to Employment Insurance. These are just a few things government could introduce in Budget 2017 to fix our EI system:
- Launch a broad review of EI to improve access to regular and special benefits. This should include a uniform entrance requirement of 360 hours, expanded number of weeks for the EI sickness benefit, and improved design for workers with episodic or long-term illnesses;
- Add an improved low-income supplement that is based on individual income, rather than household income;
- Reform the EI appeals process to ensure a fairer process with fewer delays.
6. Green Job Creation
Canada needs to envision the next hundred years as a Clean Growth Century, and we know it can be done in a way that is economically and socially responsible, without leaving behind workers and their communities. Budget 2017 should kick off ambitious programs to expand renewable energy generation, support home and building retrofits and dramatically increase the scale and quality of public transit in Canada.
Unions are also looking for a budget commitment to a just transition framework to assist workers and communities affected by climate change.
7. Refugee Resettlement Services
Refugees arrive in Canada with next to nothing, and are given little time to adapt to our culture, school system and labour market. Budget 2017 should allocate new funding towards labour market supports and employment services to assist refugees in need of language training, literacy and essential skills training.
8. Support for Good Jobs
Government should use the budget to work towards the establishment of a federal minimum wage. This would have an immediate, significant and positive impact for workers at Canadian airports and those performing outsourced maintenance work in federal buildings and offices.
In order to foster engines of growth and employment creation, Budget 2017 could include sectoral funding to develop key industries like automotive and manufacturing, aerospace and forestry, to encourage innovation, value-added activity, environmental performance, and good job creation.
Budget 2017 should also further improve the working income tax benefit (WITB), which is currently inaccessible for full-time minimum-wage workers.
9. Indigenous Justice and Reconciliation
Unions stood alongside Indigenous communities calling for a National Inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women. Now the inquiry has been announced and budget 2017 must ensure it is properly funded, in order to ensure the inquiry can address the root causes of violence against Indigenous women.
Additionally the budget must reflect the government’s commitment to implement the full recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation commission, and address issues related to clean drinking water, affordable housing, and poverty reduction in Inuit, First Nations and Métis communities.
10. Fairness for migrant workers
Canada’s unions believe that no matter where you’re from, if you work in Canada, you should be treated fairly. Workers such as those who come to Canada under the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) can face discrimination and dangerous working conditions on a daily basis.
Unions want to see Budget 2017 eliminate work permits that tie an employee to one employer, and allow adequate funding for on-site enforcement of workers’ labour rights.
Of course, these are only some of the issues that affect working Canadians. You can read the Canadian Labour Congress’ submission to the government’s pre-budget consultation for more.