The federal Liberal’s 2017 budget includes new funds to improve housing affordability. -File photo

Ottawa’s housing strategy offers $1 billion a year

Richard Cannings, NDP MP, says budget had few surprises, and some disappointments

Ottawa’s housing strategy offers $1 billion a year

The Justin Trudeau government’s new national housing plan promises about $1 billion a year for the next decade to help bring housing costs into reach for more Canadians.

Finance Minister Bill Morneau’s second budget, revealed Wednesday, promises a “renewed partnership” with provinces, and an additional $11.2 billion over 11 years to increase housing affordability.

That is on top of last year’s budget commitment to fund “low-cost loans and new financing tools to encourage municipalities, housing developers and non-profit housing providers to develop more affordable rental housing units.”

“We’re happy to see them talk about some money for affordable housing across Canada, but it is so backend loaded that it will be years before we see any real money in that regard,” said Richard Cannings, NDP MP for South Okanagan West Kootenay. “Hopefully it will still be there next year. “

Cannings was hoping the eco-energy retrofit program might be brought back.

“It would save us all money in our houses energy efficiency, get jobs across the country and yet it is not here either,” said Cannings. “The Canadian Home Builders Association locally has approached me and said they would like to see these programs returned because when they were in play, they really saw an increase in business, they were hiring people.”

Employment Insurance premiums are going up five cents next year, while parental leave can be extended to 18 months, at a lower rate of one third of average weekly earnings.

Another change is the EI caregiver benefit, allowing people who find themselves having to take time off work for a suddenly ill spouse to claim benefits.

“I have had people in the riding pleading with me for that,” said Cannings, noting that was an election promise for both the Liberals and NDP. “The amount that they are proposing is not up to what they promised, but at least it is something.”

Overall, Cannings said there weren’t a lot of surprises.

“When you sit in there everyday, you here a lot of these things being telegraphed in advance,” he said. “We were hoping for some pleasant surprises, like hearing about a pharmacare plan, but it is a bit anticlimatic in a way.“

A universal pharmacare plan, Cannings said, is badly needed; it would save an estimated $1 billion a year, and give every Canadian free drug coverage.

“We are the only country in the world that has a universal health care plan that doesn’t provide free prescription drugs,” he continued. “We were optimistic about that. I am a bit disappointed that is not in there.”

Cannings wasn’t pleased to see the budget for the Pan-Canadian Clean Growth and Climate Change framework cut by $1billion over the next two years.

“It is a bit disconcerting to see that when we should be going the other way,” he said.

Even with major cuts like that, operating deficits continue to soar in the federal government’s plan, projected to go from $23 billion in the current fiscal year to $28 billion in 2017-18. The budget forecasts the government would still be in the red $19 billion by 2021-22. Trudeau campaigned in 2015 on a promise to run deficits no larger than $10 billion a year and balance the operating budget by 2019.

“We were hoping to see the government really tackle offshore tax evasion. We wanted them to tackle stock option loopholes for CEOs. That alone would bring in another 800 million worth of taxes. It could take a lot of pressure of taxpayers that make a lot less money,” said Cannings. “They are letting wealthy CEOs off the hook again. We are disappointed in those kind of choices.”

Aaron Wudrick of the Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation said weaker projected revenues combined with new spending will see the debt pile up to the point where interest costs alone will be $143 billion over the next five years.

Wudrick praised some measures, including a promised spending review for government departments, a commitment to expand free trade between provinces and an effort to crack down on tax evasion.

Dan Albas, MP for Central Okanagan-Similkameen and Conservative deputy finance critic, said the Liberal budget showed out of control spending.

“Basically, Canadians are looking at new Liberal debt of over $100 Billion dollars by the time the next election rolls around and absolutely no plan for a return to a balanced budget for decades,” said Albas. “These are not investments in the middle class…this is mortgaging the middle class.”

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