Fair? Not quite. The 2024 Federal Budget through a public justice lens.

By Citizens for Public Justice

The Canadian Federal Budget, unveiled each Spring, reveals each government’s true priorities more accurately than campaign promises or mandate letters. This motion is so crucial to our democracy that a failure to pass it is commonly considered a vote of no confidence for the sitting government. Given its significance, it is a matter of civil duty to engage with the process and hold the government accountable for the prioritization of matters central to the common good.

From the perspective of Citizens for Public Justice (CPJ), a faith-based advocacy organization that has championed public justice in Canadian policy for more than 60 years, the question around every Federal Budget cycle remains the same: Does this budget prioritize systemic solutions that could eradicate poverty, uphold the rights and dignity of refugees and migrants, and address the climate crisis? This analysis neatly follows the three policy areas – poverty eradication, refugee and migrant rights, and climate justice – that have mobilized supporters of CPJ across Canada for decades.

Did the 2024 Federal Budget pass CPJ’s “public justice test”? The answer is no: important steps were taken, but not at a sufficient level of ambition to change the status quo – and certainly not enough to fulfill the budget’s stated promise of “fairness for every generation.” In this brief analysis, we elaborate on key highlights related to CPJ’s priority areas.

Tough housing market  

A critical focus of this budget is housing. The week before the budget was announced, the government released a number of spoilers with “Canada’s Housing Plan.” Multiple CPJ partners, such as the National Right to Housing Network, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA), the Federal Housing Advocate and others, have applauded important investments in non-market, social housing through the Rental Protection Fund and the Rapid Housing Stream of the Affordable Housing Fund; the creation of a Canadian Renters Bill of Rights; and by linking infrastructure funding with housing. At the same time, they note that Budget 2024 still prioritizes spending on private market housing, which will not meaningfully move the needle on housing affordability. Similarly, the announcement of using public lands to develop housing has been met with calls to ensure these lands are dedicated to non-market housing with a focus on affordability.

Expanding health care

Funding for the first iteration of a national pharmacare program is exciting to see in this budget, though limited to contraceptive and diabetes medications, as is the $1 billion allocated for the development of a National School Food Program. And we should not forget previously announced investments in the Canadian Dental Care Plan, health transfer top-ups, and childcare spaces. These are critical investments to support more equitable health and economic outcomes.

Income supports

Unfortunately, the announcement of funding for the forthcoming Canada Disability Benefit is extremely underwhelming – a maximum of $2,400 annually, or $200 a month – despite Maytree reporting gaps between annual welfare incomes and poverty lines for a single person with disabilities ranging from$16,618 to $5,066. Additionally, this budget identified the Disability Tax Credit as the program to be used to deliver the benefit, contrary to multiple disability groups warning against its very low uptake, inaccessible application process, and lack of transparency in deciding (or terminating) eligibility.

Also missing from this budget are CPJ and partners’ calls to increase the Canada Child Benefit with a top-up for low-income families, and to remove eligibility criteria related to immigration status for parents and caregivers, as well as implementing CERB repayment amnesty for low-income individuals.

Refugee claimants

The second area of CPJ’s analysis is how this budget might affect refugees and migrants. In the face of a record number of asylum claims, the government has been unable to provide sufficient housing support for refugee claimants, as evidenced by news of thousands turned away from overburdened homeless shelters and forced to sleep on the streets. The 2024 Federal Budget allocates a funding injection of $1.1 billion into the Interim Federal Housing Assistance Program (IHAP) over the next three years. The IHAP provides funding assistance to both provinces and municipalities facing increased pressures of housing asylum seekers. While an extension to the IHAP is a welcome development, it falls short of a comprehensive community-based housing solution for asylum seekers that sees coordination of all three levels of government. A comprehensive response to housing for refugee claimants must center the expertise of local organizations that currently serve asylum seeker populations. Transitional shelters like Romero House and Matthew House have the knowledge and the experience in providing refugee claimants with wrap around supports. Such assistance extends beyond the provision of shelter and includes access to settlement support that will help claimants better sustain themselves.

Immigration detention

The Federal Budget also includes proposed amendments to the Corrections and Conditional Release Act and the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act that will enable the use of federal penitentiaries to hold immigration detainees. This proposal is at odds with Canada’s human rights commitments, and reverses the progress achieved through campaigns against immigration detention, which saw all 10 Canadian provinces ending their immigration detention contracts with the CBSA between 2022 and 2023.

In addition to this, the Federal Budget allocated $325 million over the next five years for the CBSA to upgrade existing Immigration Holding Centers, which operate akin to medium security prisons. Immigration detention is a punitive practice, which results in serious human rights violations, especially against detainees that are racialized and/or have psychosocial disabilities. The Federal Government needs to shift its attention away from carceral solutions and towards alternatives to detention (ATDs). The vast majority of immigration detentions occur because the CBSA has determined an individual to be a “flight risk” – a concern that individuals will not show up to their immigration hearing. ATDs, such as temporary community-based housing and legal aid, can adequately address this concern whilst upholding the rights of immigrants and refugees.

The Polluter Pays Principle

And finally, in terms of the climate crisis, the budget allocates only $2 billion in net new climate spending over the next five years, a sum woefully insufficient compared to the $100 billion annually deemed necessary by recent studies. At a time when the convergence of economic and environmental crises demands decisive and urgent action, CPJ, along with its partners, urged the government to implement an excess profits tax on the oil and gas sector grounded in the “polluter pays” principle. Drawing on the precedent set by the 15 percent windfall tax on the banking and insurance sectors, such a measure could have generated approximately $4.4 billion in revenue from an oil and gas industry that reaped over $38 billion in profits, significantly benefiting from high fuel prices while Canadians suffered a cost-of-living crisis. These funds could have bolstered efforts to mitigate the climate crisis and enhance affordability through initiatives like public transit upgrades, home retrofits, and transitioning to a greener, interconnected, and a more resilient electricity grid. Regrettably, despite serious consideration, the government did not implement this proposal, yielding instead to pressure from the oil and gas industry.

Intergenerational Climate Justice

The Youth Climate Corps and the development of an $800 million Greener Homes Affordability Program over five years are positive steps. However, these initiatives fall short of the robust funding and comprehensive strategies CPJ advocated for. For instance, the money allocated for home retrofits in this budget is only about a third of the $2.6 billion allocated over the past three years for the Greener Homes Grant. Furthermore, the absence of a timeline or funding commitments for the Youth Climate Corps complicates holding the government accountable for its delivery.

The budget’s approach to climate policy sharply contradicts its stated goals. According to a recent study, an unmitigated climate crisis will not only reduce incomes by 19 percent by 2049, but will also force successive generations to bear a financial burden six times greater than the cost of limiting catastrophic global warming to 2°C. This budget’s severe shortfall in climate spending not only hampers our environmental progress, it also threatens the economic stability of future generations, making the promise of intergenerational fairness much harder to fulfill. In conclusion, the Federal Budget falls short from its promise of “Fairness for every generation”: from the important gaps in the Canada Disability Benefit to the catastrophic reversal of the progress made on reducing human rights violations in immigration detention, to the insufficient investments to address the climate crisis. There are many steps in the right direction, including the increased funding to pharmacare and housing. But from a public justice lens, Canadian Christians must demand more. As witnesses of the present and stewards of the future, we must ensure that every step we take now paves the way for a truly equitable tomorrow.

This article was originally published in Christian Courier.

Leave a Comment

Share via
Copy link