Every summer, the federal government asks the public to share their ideas for the following year’s budget. This year, they asked for input on how to restart the economy as we recover from COVID-19. CUPE’s submission challenged legislators to seize the opportunity to reimagine what our economy looks like.
The federal government is forecasting a significant deficit for this fiscal year, but this is no justification for austerity. Borrowing makes financial sense, especially when investing in infrastructure that will benefit our economy for years to come. The rate for 30-year federal government bonds is at two per cent, and 10-year bonds are below one per cent. Public infrastructure is the backbone of economic activity, enabling workers and businesses to be more productive. We often think about infrastructure as roads and bridges, but it also includes electricity, water, libraries, museums, schools, and hospitals.
The pandemic exposed some serious gaps in our social infrastructure, ones that workers have been raising the alarm about for years. Child care and elder care stand out. It is critical to get them right to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and help get our economy back on track. Low wages and precarious employment relationships meant that many care workers rely on multiple jobs to make ends meet. Understaffing and inadequate standards of care mean that workers do not have the resources to do their jobs properly – often leading to burnout for workers and gaps in care for recipients. The federal government has a critical role in setting national standards and providing sufficient funding for provinces to meet these standards.
CUPE strongly supports increased funding for public transit, affordable housing and green infrastructure, all important components of a healthy economic recovery. But the main vehicle for funding that work under the current government is the Canada Infrastructure Bank (CIB). The CIB is designed to use public money to attract private investors, nothing more than a fresh coat of paint on the old public-private partnership model. CUPE urges the federal government to change course and convert the CIB into a truly public infrastructure bank that offers low-cost financing to other levels of government.
A vibrant economy depends on a vibrant social safety net, and the federal government should restore funding to this sector. Since 2000, tax cuts have reduced federal revenues by over $50 billion annually, and the major beneficiaries of these tax cuts have been large corporations and the wealthiest Canadians. The federal government could recoup these losses by implementing a fair tax reform that includes a wealth tax, closing unproductive loopholes, and cracking down on tax havens. This would bring in more than enough revenue to fund public long-term care, national pharmacare, and a national child care system.
Finally, as the federal government makes its plans, it must take account of the inequalities that the pandemic has revealed. Racialized workers and women have felt the deepest impacts of COVID-19. The government must work in partnership with hard-hit communities to find just solutions.