Canadian Labour Congress welcomes progress in the federal budget, but says much is riding on the next election
The Canadian Labour Congress welcomes new measures to lay the groundwork for national pharmacare, provide assistance for the neediest seniors, skills training, and a community-centred approach to carbon reduction, but says Canadians have a lot riding on the next election.
“Canadian workers, their families and their communities will benefit from new budgetary measures that lay the groundwork for curbing exorbitant medicine prices, income inequality, and climate change,” said CLC President Hassan Yussuff. “We are pleased to see a budget that acknowledges some of the most pressing issues facing Canadians, because these are the issues that voters will be taking to the ballot box in the federal election.”
Canada’s unions have long advocated for the introduction of a universal, single-payer pharmacare plan to reduce drug prices, save billions for families and businesses, and provide vital medicines to the 3.6 million Canadians who cannot afford to fill their prescriptions. Today’s federal budget delivers on a recommendation of the interim report of the federal Advisory Council on the Implementation of National Pharmacare by announcing funding for a new federal drug agency to lead to the future development of a national formulary, as well as new funding for medicines for rare diseases.
“Canada’s unions continue to feel cautiously optimistic that a universal pharmacare plan is on the horizon. Today’s budget clears important obstacles but waits on the government’s pharmacare advisory council to prescribe the model for pharmacare delivery,” said Yussuff. “Experts all agree that Canada’s patchwork approach to prescription drug coverage needs to be streamlined, but drug costs won’t come down unless there is one plan and one buyer.”
Today’s federal budget also announced plans to introduce improvements to the Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS) by raising the $3,500 annual earnings exemption for employment income. Two million elderly Canadians, roughly one third of all seniors, receive the Guaranteed Income Supplement, which is targeted to the most vulnerable.
“Allowing working seniors to keep more of their GIS benefit will reduce financial insecurity in old age and make a material difference in the lives of seniors,” said Yussuff.
Budget 2019 announced the government’s plan to prioritize skills and training, including the establishment of the Canada Training Benefit to assist with fees and provide income support for lifelong learning and skills development.
“The commitments in today’s budget signal that the government recognizes access to continuous learning must be a priority to ensure workers can adapt to technological change and emerging skill needs,” said Yussuff. “The success of today’s commitments will depend on funding and training opportunities reaching those who need it most. The Canadian Labour Congress has concerns about the design of the benefit, but remains committed to promoting worker awareness of, and access to, these new training opportunities.”
The CLC also welcomed Budget 2019’s funding commitment to reform the Employment Insurance appeal process. “Unemployed workers and Canada’s unions have long urged the government to restore transparency, efficiency and fairness to the appeal process. We applaud this important funding commitment,” said Yussuff.
Canada’s unions are pleased to see the federal government announce measures to ensure a just transition as the government addresses climate change. The 2019 Budget pledges $150 million in infrastructure funding to directly assist resource-based municipalities in establishing new fiscal drivers.
“I was proud to serve as Co-Chair for Canada’s Just Transition Task Force, and to work together with government to put people and communities at the heart of climate policy. Today’s budget commitment will help begin to ensure that communities are not left behind as Canada transitions away from coal-powered electricity by 2030,” said Yussuff. “Canada’s unions are looking forward to working with the Minister of Natural Resources as the newly named lead minister, but are disappointed to see that the government has not addressed key Task Force recommendations to support workers, in terms of income, training and reemployment needs. Without this, workers will be left behind.”
The Congress highlighted other positive announcements in today’s federal budget, including:
- Investments in stabilizing Phoenix in the short term, noting that more is needed for long-term planning and funding for a new system.
- Funding to support a new anti-racism strategy, funding for LGBTQ2+ organizations and establishment of an LGBTQ2+ Secretariat, Gender Equality funding to expand the Women’s Program and funds for Black Canadian communities.
- Action on tax avoidance and restrictions on stock-option deductions, which overwhelmingly benefit a small number of high-income earners.
The Congress also noted several concerns over budgetary omissions, including:
- A missed opportunity to immediately provide pension protection and address the injustice workers and pensioners face during employer bankruptcy.
- A failure to expand the EI sickness benefit.
- A lack of new investments in high quality, affordable, public early learning and childcare.
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