Budget 2022 was announced in a moment of multiple overlapping crises. In Canada and across the world we are living with rising costs of living, social and political unrest, and an ever-accelerating climate crisis, all in the midst of an ongoing pandemic. Ahead of the budget, CPJ called for an approach that would reflect the urgency and underlying inequities of these issues and set a course for a just recovery. We urged the government to respond to the critical need for well-funded measures to address the structural barriers that divide our society and invest in policies that honour the human rights of millions in Canada.
More than throne speeches or mandate letters, budgets demonstrate a government’s priorities. The question then is: Has this government chosen to use Budget 2022 to prioritize the systemic solutions that could eradicate poverty, uphold the rights and dignity of refugees and immigrants, and address the climate crisis?
The scope and scale of Budget 2022 is significantly reduced when compared to recent budgets. In terms of addressing poverty in Canada, Budget 2022 puts most of its eggs in the housing, childcare, and dental care baskets. These are all critical investments that must be further strengthened to ensure accessibility and affordability, particularly for marginalized groups, if they are to effectively address Canada’s human rights obligations. As it exists now, Budget 2022 remains squarely focused on the middle class with little proposed to bring about the kind of systemic reform required to combat increasing inequity in Canada.
Health & Security
The government has prioritized and chosen to invest in a national dental care program that will mean relief and greater access to medical care for many Canadians. This move shows both a willingness to increase access to healthcare and an understanding that investing in large-scale publicly funded accessible programs for all those living in Canada is possible and necessary.
As we celebrate the important investments that have been made to ensure that basic needs are met, we must also ask why, in the face of rising inflation and cost of living, other investments are lacking, leaving the most marginalized without access to paid healthcare services.
Despite the government’s previous acknowledgements of the social determinants of health, Budget 2022 includes very little to address poverty and low-income. There is no funding for the promised Canada Disability Benefit, Mental Health Transfer, or National School Food Program. There is a commitment to study the idea of an Aging At Home Benefit, and funding has been allocated for the development of an employment strategy for persons with disabilities. The lack of publicly funded, targeted, and accessible investments in pharmacare, long term care, and mental health suggest the absence of a sense of accountability to the most marginalized people in Canada..
Budget 2022 commits to $10 billion in funding for housing, a notable amount that signals the government’s recognition that this issue is top of mind for many in Canada.
When we break it down, however, less than $2 billion is in the form of new investments to address the needs of people experiencing homelessness or core housing need (i.e., spending more than 30% of a household’s income on shelter costs).1 An additional $4.4 billion of previously committed funds has been reallocated among various co-operative housing programs.
Distinct funding was also announced to support housing for First Nations, Inuit, and Métis people and communities, as well as funding for the co-development and launch of an Urban, Rural, and Northern Indigenous Housing Strategy. Given the disproportionate rates of homelessness, core housing need, and lack of housing stock experienced by Indigenous Peoples, however, these proposed funds are grossly insufficient (a mere 0.5 percent of the $6 billion called for by the National Housing Council and the Indigenous Caucus of the Canadian Housing Renewal Association).
Investments in greening building codes and energy-efficient housing are welcome inclusions in Budget 2022, representing a mix of existing funds committed in 2021 and some new investments over the next five years. Of these funds, $458.5 million is tied to greener affordable homes, with the money going to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation to provide low-interest loans and grants to low-income housing providers.
Unfortunately, many of the investments included in the section on “Building Affordable Homes” will not necessarily address housing affordability or homelessness effectively. Increasing the available housing stock alone will not move Canada forward in terms of our legal obligations to progressively realize the right to housing.
Accessibility and the definition of “affordability” will determine the real-life impacts of these housing investments. To be truly affordable for people with low incomes, rent must be geared to income, not market rates. To reach those most likely to be left behind, specific targets and accountability measures must also be in place to ensure that people with disabilities, women, gender-diverse people, and urban and rural Indigenous peoples (both on and off reserve) are able to access the housing they need.
We also need stronger measures to stop the financialization of the housing market, in which housing is viewed primarily as an asset, or an investment opportunity, rather than a home. Housing measures focused on banning foreign investment and addressing money laundering, while good, do little to address sky-rocketing rents and housing prices.
A number of important considerations have been included in Budgets 2021 and 2022, but they just don’t reach the scale of investments and systemic changes that are required to meet a crisis that has been 40 years in the making, nor do they sufficiently target those most vulnerable as required by the right to housing.
The federal government had previously announced $30 billion over five years to build a Canada-wide $10/day early learning and child care system in collaboration with provinces, territories, and Indigenous partners. This is an important initiative that will support women’s labour force participation. It would be strengthened, however, by the inclusion of minimum standards to ensure accessibility of childcare spaces for children and parents with disabilities; minimum labour and pay standards for early childhood educators; and additional subsidies to ensure that all people can afford quality, public childcare.
We were pleased to see the introduction of a tax on bank and insurance profits over $1 billion, but question why a similar tax was not applied to other industries, like oil and gas (which includes 24% of Canadian companies with profits over $1 billion).
The omission of the Government’s promised wealth tax on the top one percent of individual earners further calls into question the government’s commitment to systemic change and accountability.
Refugee & Migrant Rights
Budget 2022 includes some important new funding to achieve Canada’s historic Immigration Levels Plan 2022-2024. However, it falls short of addressing the structural barriers that impact refugees and migrants in Canada.
The Government has pledged $187 million to increase Immigration Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) capacity to respond to the large volume of applications, in addition to streamlining citizenship and asylum applications through online tools. Addressing the backlog of 1.8 million people who are waiting for decisions on their applications is critical, as delays result in significant life disruptions (interrupted work or studies, substantial financial costs, or deportation), a lack of access to fundamental human rights such as healthcare, and negative impacts to Canadian industries and communities at large.
Technology can improve and streamline processes, but proper oversight mechanisms and accountability measures are needed when Artificial Intelligence (AI) is used in immigration applications, as biases or errors can result in irreparable harm to individuals and families. IRCC has not provided enough clarity on the technologies used and oversight mechanisms in place. Furthermore, accessibility must be considered when transitioning asylum applications to online formats, as many people seeking protection in Canada face barriers to the use of technology.
Beyond budget allocations, structural changes are needed to make sure that Canada’s immigration system upholds the human rights of refugees and migrants. These changes, in turn, would benefit Canada and contribute to a more efficient use of government funds.
For instance, granting permanent status to all immigrants would increase the freedom and rights of people who are already critical for the well-being of Canadian industries and communities, including Seasonal Agricultural Workers, Temporary Foreign Workers, and refugee claimants. Instead, the Government is expanding the Ministerial ability to select and prioritize applicants based on their own interpretation of who meets Canada’s economic and labour force needs. This risks increasing the marginalization of those who are deemed “low-skilled”— but who nevertheless fulfill “essential” duties without access to fundamental rights—and creates more arbitrariness and complexity in a system that is already laden with both.
Likewise, the $1.3 billion pledged over the next five years towards Canada’s asylum system needs to be contextualized. If the Government continues to uphold the Safe Third Country Agreement with the United States, and maintains the atrocious practice of immigration detentions, this budget allocation may not only fall short from fulfilling Canada’s human rights obligations, but would also exacerbate the existing problems.
Canada continues to fall short in the area of ambitious investment and action in addressing climate change. With the federal budget announcement coming close on the heels of Canada’s new Emissions Reduction Plan (ERP), announced March 29, the spending decisions came as no surprise. Total “climate” spending amounted to $9.1 billion, including over $1.5 billion in nature-based climate solutions, $900 million towards urban, suburban and rural/remote zero-emission vehicle charging and refuelling infrastructure, as well as investments in greening agriculture and the further electrification of our power grid.
While $9.1 billion may sound like a lot of money, it is worth noting the ways in which this budget is misaligned with the government’s own climate commitments. Just four months ago, the Prime Minister issued a mandate letter to Minister of Finance, Chrystia Freeland, saying that she must “ensure budgetary measures are consistent with the Government’s climate goals.” At the same time, letters issued to several members of Cabinet included the mandate to eliminate fossil fuel subsidies by 2023. Important measures are being implemented, to be sure, but neither the scale (less than 0.5% of total budget expenditures) nor the scope of this current budget reflects the emergency response required. What is more, the single largest climate line item is a $2.6 billion tax credit for highly profitable elements of heavy industry (including fossil fuel companies) for Carbon Capture Utilization, and Storage. In brief, a subsidy for the largest emitters towards unproven technology.
Sandwiched between the ERP and federal budget announcements was the April 6 approval of the new Bay du Nord offshore oil rig, a project that will generate significant new emissions at a time when all indications are that avoiding catastrophic climate impacts requires the managed decline of the fossil fuel sector.
Once again, any practical action towards the long-standing commitment to implement a Just Transition remains elusive. Though there is a brief discussion of “Investing in a Green Transition That Will Support Jobs and Growth,” it contains no specific funding or programmatic mechanisms to operationalize the transition.
The roots of the current public health, socio-economic, and climate crises are systemic and interconnected and their solutions must be as well. As we enter a new phase of the pandemic, those who are being disproportionately affected (people with disabilities; women and gender diverse people, especially those who are Indigenous, Black, or People of Colour; migrant workers and others with precarious status; and all those engaged in care work and other essential services) are still shouldering the burden of Canada’s inaction.
Budget 2022 illustrates to whom the government deems it is accountable, centring the concerns and rhetoric of a fairly comfortable middle class while leaving the underlying systems and structures of our economy and society unchanged. In other words, despite knowing what is needed, and in a number of cases, offering the beginnings of critical investments, policies, and programs, this budget stops short of implementing systemic and structural changes needed to safeguard the rights and well-being of all people and creation
CPJ believes we can and must do better. We believe that there are many people in government and the public service dedicated to building a better future, and we are here to support that good work. Along with our partners and CPJ members, we need to build on the critical investments promised in Budget 2022, working together to let the government know that we are here to help, but that we demand better, because our lives and planet depend on it.