Seeing red: Budget panned by labour and environmental groups

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Craig McInnis, writing in the Vancouver Sun about the deficit budget introduced yesterday, assailed the Prime Minister, "Stephen Harper's extraordinary reversal of a lifetime of bashing big-spending governments, deficits, debt and Keynesian economics is a stunning betrayal."

Despite this hysteria in some right-wing circles, labour, social and environmental advocacy groups all felt that Stephen Harper's budget, released Tuesday, fell short of the response required in this time of crisis.

The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) noted that the budget, to be voted on in the House today, leaves vulnerable Canadians "hanging by a very short rope."

"This budget is not equal to the challenges facing the country, nor does it live up to the rhetoric of the Throne Speech delivered only 26 hours before which claimed to protect the vulnerable," said CCPA Senior Economist Marc Lee.

CCPA Senior Economist Armine Yalnizyan pointed to the lack of major Employment Insurance (EI) reforms as the most glaring shortcoming of the budget.

"Canada is facing a potentially massive wave of economic dislocation as out-of-work Canadians turn to an EI system that is not recession ready," Yalnizyan said. "Six out of 10 Canadians don't get EI and everyone agrees that's a problem, but this government inexplicably decided to ignore the problem - and that will lead to disaster for many."

Too little, too late

The country's labour leaders came out swinging against Harper's budget.

"This budget should be defeated," said United Steelworkers' (USW) National Director for Canada, Ken Neumann. "It is too little too late to address the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression."

Neumann noted that Harper's proposals are well below the G20 recommended two per cent of GDP stimulus target that the PM had earlier agreed to himself in November 2008.

"It contains $18 billion in new federal measures, which equals only 1.2 per cent of GDP. As expected, Budget 2009 increases infrastructure spending. But it continues to insist that infrastructure projects be organized as public-private partnerships, despite the lack of available private capital. It fails to combine the new money with a necessary buy-Canadian procurement program," Neumann added.

"There are more than one million people out of work and thousands more are losing their jobs every day," said Ken Georgetti of the Canadian Labour Congress. "People desperately need their government's help to protect and create jobs and to support the unemployed. That's how I am judging this budget and it falls short."

Parliament will judge the budget in a confidence vote to be held today. The NDP and Bloc Quebecois have indicated they will vote against the budget, so all eyes are on Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff, who is expected to announce his party's intentions at 11a.m. EST this morning.

The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) urged the budget's defeat, barring substantial amendments, and criticized Harper's insistence on including personal income tax cuts of $2 billion per year.

"CUPE is calling on opposition leaders to reject the budget unless amendments are made. The current budget fails to include any serious measures to provide relief for the hundreds of thousands who are expected to become jobless over the next few years. The budget also needs to address essential social needs such as health care, pensions, child care, and a comprehensive anti-poverty plan."

Subsidies needed for green energy, not pipe dreams

Environmental groups, for their part, expressed outrage at the announcement that as much as $750 million would be directed towards nuclear energy and carbon capture and storage technologies.

"The Harper government's millions to dangerous nuclear energy and the pipe dream of carbon capture and storage are an environmental travesty and an unnecessary burden to taxpayers," said Dave Martin, Greenpeace climate and energy coordinator. "These false solutions to our energy problems don't deserve subsidies, green energy does."

Wanted: Your budget reactions and feedback

Don't forget to make your own opinion counted by voting in our poll question on the front page. And you can always log-in and join the discussion threads about budget 2009 on babble.

Whatever the outcome of today's vote in the House, it seems clear that Canada's social movements still do not have any confidence in the Harper regime.

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