Never is the divide in Canadian society so wide as it is on budget day. When the bankers and the business community express smug satisfaction, the rest of us better take cover. When the Conservatives cry that there aren’t enough tax cuts while health, education, housing and municipal needs go wanting, the differences between “them” and “us” become very clear. Here are some of the views that won’t get as much mainstream play as some others do.

A privatization budget that leaves people behind

NDP Leader Jack Layton has called the Liberal budget “a privatization budget that leaves people behind,” abandoning families to health care privatization and again ignoring the Romanow report on health care and Kyoto Protocol on climate change.

“If this is a pre-election budget, I can’t wait to ask Canadians if they share the Martin Liberals’ vision for health care privatization,” said Layton.

The budget contained no new funding for health. Instead, it announced the old promise of a one-time infusion of $2 billion for the fourth time. “The Liberals are deliberately starving public health care of ideas and money,” he said. “This budget means Paul Martin’s corporate friends will own our hospitals. Period. Instead of listening to families and Roy Romanow, Mr. Martin thinks he and his corporate friends know best.”

He noted Martin appointed Canada’s first Cabinet-level minister for P3 privatization, a system that allows investor-owned hospitals and infrastructure to flourish. “Liberals have gone from privatization by neglect to privatization by design,” he said.

The budget ignored the Kyoto Protocol on climate change. In place of a plan to shift subsidies from polluting to clean energy, the Liberals privatized Petro-Canada shares.

Layton, who has a strong record of putting renewable energy solutions in place, called it “a one-off pre-election gimmick.” He said what Canada needs is a plan to use existing technology to clean the air, fight climate change and create jobs. “The last time these Liberals promised a decade of green progress, greenhouse gas emissions went up by 18 per cent,” he said.

The NDP also criticized the education planks in the platform, noting that students arenâe(TM)t helped by being allowed to carry more debt. He said lower tuition remains the best way to improve post-secondary access.

Layton criticized Liberal plans for aggressive debt reduction, instead of allowing economic growth to decrease the debt-to-GDP ratio. “We support balanced budgets because balanced budgets bring the ratio down naturally,” said Layton. ”Families aren’t helped by artificial debt payments, they’re helped by investing in health, education and the environment. It’s like paying down the mortgage as the roof’s falling in.

“Aggressive debt payment is a corporate priority because it means governments choose to pay debt instead of investing in Canadians’ priorities,” he said. ”The only ambition in the Liberal agenda is for their corporate friends — who get to own our hospitals as a result.”

Sulky Stephen says:

Stephen Harper, the new Conservative leader, sulked that there weren’t enough tax cuts.

“They recycle a bunch of promises with no tax cuts and claim that they are going to bring in measures to better manage money in the future. I just don’t think that has any credibility now.”

Meanwhile, his soulmates at The Fraser Institute were offering some advice to Paul Martin:

“Prime Minister Paul Martin has already created the Expenditure ReviewCommittee to review all federal government spending.

“If the committee is serious about applying its seven criteria to allgovernment spending, then agricultural, regional and industrial subsidies,and much of cultural spending ought to end, funding to the CBC beeliminated, government research and development funding significantlycurtailed, and social programs left to the provinces. Further, Canada’sEmployment Insurance system and retirement income programs would befundamentally reformed.”

But it’s a different world at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives:

Martin sits on surplus while Canada crumbles

The Martin government is hiding behind the sponsorship scandal as apretext for inaction in Budget 2004, charges the Canadian Centre for PolicyAlternatives.

The Prime Minister says it’s time for transformative change but hispre-election budget delivers more of what the federal Liberals always do:pay down the debt at the expense of rebuilding Canada.

“The Martin government is simply pulling out its old tricks: low-ballingsurpluses, focusing on debt reduction at all costs, and turning a blind eyeas Canada crumbles,” says CCPA Executive Director Bruce Campbell. “PaulMartin’s bottom line is debt reduction. But Canadians’ bottom line isrebuilding Canada.”

The CCPA, a progressive economic think-tank, has consistently called out thefederal Liberals for deliberately low-balling surplus estimatesyear’s budget is no exception. This year the feds say the surplus is $5.5billion; the CCPA says it is $8.3 billion. Its numbers show that they are alsolikely hiding an additional $8 billion in surplus in the next two years,over and above the $8 billion they are conceding to.

“The Martin government has plenty of room to invest in things that matter,like implementing the Romanow plan to fix health care,” says CCPA economistArmine Yalnizyan. “Last month Canada’s premiers stood shoulder to shoulderand said universal medicare was going down the drain yet this budget doesnothing to stabilize health care.”

The CCPA has been urging the Martin government to increase funding forhealth care, a new deal for cities, education, training, and environmentalclean-up efforts. Budget 2004 not only falls short of this vision, it lackscritical measures of accountability to ensure new money buys real change.

“This year’s budget misses the point,” adds Yalnizyan. “After a decade ofthe federal government passing the buck, but not the bucks, this country isin desperate need of rebuilding. It’s not just the size of the surplus thatmatters, it’s what you do with it.”

And although affordable housing had figured positively in Paul Martin’s Throne Speech, something happened on the way to the budget.

Budget fails Canadians who need affordable housing

Canada’s leading affordable housing organization says it is disappointed with the federal budget’s lack of attention to the needs of 2.2 million Canadian households that lack safe, decent, affordable shelter.

“We welcome Prime Minister Martin’s recent statements that the Liberal platform will include a plank on building affordable housing, but we had hoped for more action today,” said John Metson, President of the Canadian Housing and Renewal Association (CHRA). “Canada needs a national housing program that produces 25,000 affordable units per year with a sustained, ongoing commitment from the federal government.”

In the same vein that the government has recognized the need for multi-year funding to ensure the stability of health care, it is important to take a long-term view of making sure the most basic of needs — shelter — is addressed.

“Across the country, emergency food programs report ever-higher numbers of people showing up at their doors because too many families are forced to choose between buying food and paying the rent. Too many kids are heading to school from a bed in an emergency shelter,” said Sharon Chisholm, Executive Director of CHRA.

“The only solution is a national housing program in which the federal government works with provinces, cities and the community to build 25,000 affordable units annually,” she said.

CHRA is part of Campaign 2000, a broad-based coalition advocating measures to end child poverty, including investments in affordable housing. In the run-up to this budget, Campaign 2000 also called for real action on child care and a higher child tax credit that would no longer be clawed back from the poorest families.

The Canadian Federation of Students was looking for a policy that would reduce tuition fees.

Budget guarantees higher student debt — not accessibility

Paul Martin’s first budget as Prime Minister will increase student debt and lead to more tuition fee increases, the Canadian Federation of Students said today.“Paul Martin’s plan for post-secondary education is to plunge students deeper into debt,” said Ian Boyko, National Chairperson. “Higher loan limits will allow universities to raise tuition fees, not help students make ends meet.”

The Canadian Federation of Students was looking for the restoration of post-secondary education transfers, which would have allowed provinces to freeze and reduce tuition fees. Instead, the budget included only a modest grants program, a 25 per cent increase in student debt and a change to the RESP program that won’t help a single student until the year 2022.

“The RESP learning bond for low-income families will not come into use for close to two decades,” said Boyko. “Besides, $100 a year spread over 15 years will do little to help poor families pay for post-secondary education.”

The federal budget increases the student loan maximum to $11,900 per year, an increase of more than $2,500 per year and more than $10,000 over the course of a four year degree. Average student debt upon graduation is currently $25,000 and could increase to $35,000 with the new loan limits.