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Alternative Federal Budget 2012: A budget for the rest of us

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Canada's job market remains stalled and Canadians are understandably anxious about their future, and increasingly question whether their children and grandchildren will do better than they did. In fact, the latest job numbers have revealed that tens of thousands of Canadians have lost hope and given up looking for a work.

Compound that with the federal government's decision to close youth employment centres at a time when Canada's youth unemployment levels are disturbingly high, and you have a threat to the economy that you cannot ignore.

Stagnant wages for most of us has meant that household debt has mushroomed, standing in for the raises that mainstream Canadians used to get. It is now at the point where the Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney has noted that this is the "biggest domestic threat to our economy." At the same time, corporate Canada is only building their corporate cash stash from a decade of tax cuts and refusing to hold up their side of the bargain.

Many Canadians don't know when they'll be able to retire. At the same time, their federal government is threatening to change the rules of the public pension system without having raised a peep about it during the last election.

It is no wonder that the majority of Canadians still believe the country is in recession and many don't like the direction this country is heading in.

This is the price we are paying for higher income inequality as the very affluent take a larger and larger piece of the collective pie. This is an issue that hasn't gone away and won't -- even if economic growth resumes. This is a problem in search of government leadership.

But there's little indication that the federal government is listening. In fact, the federal government has been dodging these issues. The government has warned that $4 to $8 billion in public spending cuts are on the way but our own finance minister has said publicly that he may not include the details of pending cuts in this upcoming budget. We're calling on this government to deliver a transparent budget -- not a hide-and-seek budget -- one that protects the services Canadians rely on, but also expands them in key ways.

This week the Bank of Canada became the latest voice sounding a warning that economic growth is leaving too many people behind, and governments need to step up if free markets are going to function well. It comes on the heels of similar cautions from the IMF, the OECD and the Conference Board, voices from across the political spectrum.

There is a conspicuous absence in this rising chorus of concern. The whole world may be talking about the problem of rising inequality, in good times and bad, but our federal government remains silent.

Canada's middle class is in a slump. Young people are struggling to start their lives. Legitimate concerns about environmental degradation are brushed off in the rush to sell our natural resources. Aging infrastructure is crumbling as decision-makers kick the problems down the road, causing costs to multiply. That's not prudent -- that's irresponsible.

Government neglect of these issues, combined with a curious focus on imprisonment and building military strength is delivering a political agenda that is increasingly out of step with the issues facing most Canadians.

Instead of more cuts, prisons and corporate tax breaks, the Alternative Federal Budget delivers a fully costed package with a complete macro-economic framework built for implementation. Its impacts on the economy and employment are transparent and up front. In fact, the plan creates over 300,000 jobs at its peak. It provides a real boost to the economy, reduces inequality and is the antidote for corporate hoarding by dramatically improving key services not cutting them.

The Alternative Federal Budget offers a blueprint to tackle these problems and get to a balanced budget. We show that investment in the things that made us the 10th largest economy in the world and a land of promise to our people are within reach today, and will ensure that Canada does not turn into a resource-driven economic backwater. We channel resources into public programs and infrastructure that benefit all Canadians and still get to zero deficits, just a year after the federal government said they'd reach that goal.

Here's how we do it.

First, we all know we need to fix aging infrastructure in our cities and communities. The Alternative Federal Budget launches a focused 10-year fix-it strategy to repair the public infrastructure our communities and businesses rely on, day in and day out.

Instead of ignoring 1.4 million unemployed Canadians -- and tens of thousands of discouraged workers who have given up looking for a job -- we put Canadians back to work, lowering the unemployment rate to below six per cent, restoring purchasing power and setting the foundation for sustained recovery.

The Alternative Federal Budget tackles poverty and income inequality head-on through public programs that emphasize education, affordable housing, public pensions, universal pharmacare and national child care -- exactly where Canadians say they want greater investments.

Our plan calls on those who did so well before the recession and, who have bounced back so quickly since, to help make recovery a reality for everyone and build a platform for future growth. We end the failed social experiment of corporate tax cuts, which has been rewarded with a drop in business investment and fewer middle-class jobs for Canadians. Canadians want our government to get real and join in the effort to become environmental leaders. A carbon tax could help us get there.

With money and a plan we could transform Canada from an international laggard on the environmental scene into an environmental leader, with a forward-looking green strategy that would make all Canadians proud.

It's time our governments harness the many strong features of our current economy to ensure this country remains a thriving place to live and work and create, making Canada a major force in contributing to the world's future. The Alternative Federal Budget shows us how.

Any party that wants to put the priorities of mainstream Canada first, and deal with the real, tough issues of our day would implement a budget like this.

Equality. Transparency. Service to Canadians. That is a budget for the rest of us.

For the full Alternative Federal Budget, the two-page summary and infographics visit www.policyalternatives.ca/afb2012. This article was first posted on Behind the Numbers.

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