(Editor’s note: Today is budget day in Ottawa. The Stephen Harper Conservative government is expected to cut taxes — including the GST — and increase spending for the military. The government has already cut programs that benefit the environment, has scrapped gains made by the NDP in last year’s Liberal budget and will go ahead with its taxable $1200 per year per child as a “child-care” plan. There is another way.)

The federal government has the resources to maintain and build on the commitments made in the 2004-05 minority Parliament and could have used upcoming surpluses to move forward on a progressive agenda, says the 2006 Alternative Federal Budget.

“Ottawa currently has sizable surpluses to deliver the programs and services Canadians want and need,” says Ellen Russell, senior economist with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. “However, this historic opportunity will be lost if the Conservatives’ tax cuts leave the cupboard bare.”

The Conservatives’ own estimates indicate that the federal government will cut program spending to pay for their full slate of tax cuts.

The AFB argues that Canadians would be much better served by investing the surplus into a range of public services that address the most important problems facing the country today.

“A $300 or $400 net tax cut is small compensation for being unable to find a child-care space when you need it, or send your child to university, or afford decent housing,” says AFB Coordinator Judy Randall.

This year’s AFB highlights the significant progress made in 2004-05 on child care, First Nations, the environment, young Canadians and workers, and cities and communities.

The AFB would build on these priorities and invest a net total of an additional $36 billion in Canada’s social and environmental quality of life over three years while maintaining a balanced budget in every year and with no increase in overall taxes.

“The AFB offers better choices within a responsible fiscal framework, which means investing in things like health care, education, clean air, safe drinking water and affordable housing,” says Randall. “These public goods are necessities, paid for by our tax dollars, and no tax cut could deliver them so equitably.”

The purpose of the alternative budgets is to show Canadians that there is another way to make budgets that are both fiscally and socially responsible. The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives — with the participation and support of researchers, activists and leadership from a broad spectrum of civil society organizations representing millions of Canadians — has been putting together the Alternative Federal Budget (AFB) since 1994.

The AFB provides a technically sophisticated fiscal framework in which the budget is balanced, the debt burden falls, and the overall tax level as a share of GDP remains constant. And with all these constraints, it still meets the aspirations of a wide range of civil society organizations. The AFB provides a benchmark for what a government could do if economic justice and sustainability truly were its priorities.