Editorial – Federal budget short on immediate fixes

Federal Liberal Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland tabled her government’s latest budget in the House of Commons last week. The budget offers nearly $60 billion in new spending, and many long-term initiatives. It does not offer any short term remedies or immediate fixes to address the needs of many Canadians.

A good portion of the 2024 budget focuses on housing needs – but all through a five year lens. From adding student housing for post secondary, using surplus federal land to build homes, and releasing under-used federal office buildings – there will be more availability to build or convert properties to homes in the future. But that process is spread over the next five years.

Similarly, first-time home buyers will be able to amortize a new home purchase over 30 years, instead of the normal 25. That is a great incentive to help people get on the property ladder, if there were affordable properties available for these future homeowners to buy. Nationally, housing starts are down from this time last year, while the need has only increased. Pledging to unlock nearly four million homes by 2031 is great long-term promise, but the country is already short 4.4 million homes according to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation.

The proposed new Canada Disability Benefit will add $200 per month, or $2,400 per year in the pockets of those who are on some form of disability support program. However, the federal government has not reached any agreement with the provinces on said payment, guaranteeing that the amount will not be taxed or clawed back against current provincial benefits. What should be a program to help those in need, may yet turn out to be a simple offset of provincial responsibilities, leaving those in need no further ahead. In fact, this budget offers no real answers to the immediate affordability and housing crises. Inflation is still higher than the Bank of Canada’s benchmark goal of two per cent, interest rates have not eased, grocery and fuel costs are still high. People cannot wait five years for answers.

Sadly, just as the federal Liberal budget is short on addressing the immediate needs of many Canadians, so to are the opposition responses. Conservative Party leader Pierre Poilievre called the budget a “$50 billion orgy of spending” but offered no alternatives to address Canadians – except for campaign slogans. NDP leader Jagmeet Singh said his party had concerns about the disability benefit, but did not commit to supporting the budget. This is despite the number of NDP-related initiatives in the budget.

What is clear from this budget is, if you can afford to wait up to five years for things to straighten out, there is something in this budget for you. And if you are in immediate need – you are on your own.

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