Budget is "a start" but doesn't do enough for people in NWO: LSPC

THUNDER BAY — Local officials feel the 2024 federal budget was lacklustre and won’t help everyone enough with costs in general.

The financial blueprint, which was tabled on April 16, projects a federal deficit of $39.8 billion in 2024-25 and declining deficits toward 2028-29, a year that the federal government said will be $20 billion in the red.

One of the facets of the budget that did pique the interest of Bonnie Krysowaty is dollars toward the long-promised Canada Disability Benefit.

“I believe it will be a welcomed sight for people to be able to receive more money if they're working while they're disabled,” added Krysowaty, a social researcher and planner for the Lakehead Social Planning Council (LSPC).

“It's a start, but people that live on the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) are living in grave poverty.

“Any income boost will be helpful, but will it bring people to a place where they're able to meet all the social determinants of health or an income where they're able to meet all the social determinants of health? That remains to be seen.”

Ottawa is promising $6.1 billion over six years and $1.4 billion ongoing with the first payments starting July 2025.

The government says that this will help hundreds of thousands of low-income, working-age people with disabilities and is meant to supplement existing provincial and territorial benefits.

Krysowaty would love to see a guaranteed basic income initiative for everyone, which would include those on ODSP or who are receiving a disability benefit.

“Any program that would enable people who are disabled to receive an income that lets them meet all the social determinants of health would be beneficial,” Krysowaty added.

“This budget doesn't address the fact that Canadians are definitely paying so much more for the cost of living. There are some programs and initiatives within the budget that will help some groups economically. Overall, it would have been great to see some plans that really put money into the pockets of Canadians.”

Economics Professor Livio Di Matteo with Lakehead University pointed to a promise of $9 billion in new cash for Indigenous communities over the next five years.

“From what I hear it’s designed to help mainly resource projects,” Matteo said.

“Given that there are a lot of those projects in Northwestern Ontario between mining and forestry, not to mention the need for infrastructure among First Nations, this could be a benefit.”

“They have announced a lot of new spending, but how it actually pans out and what the conditions are remains to be seen through the legislation.”

The Liberals have pledged a few things, including $1.5 billion for Indigenous child and family services, $1.2 billion for First Nations kindergarten to Grade 12 education, and $1 billion for First Nations and Inuit health.

Matteo feels that based on the numbers provided, the government will be spending $60 billion to service their debt, which could have gone to other areas.

He noted, “If you don’t have sustainable finances, taxes will have to go up eventually.”

“And what’s disturbing about this budget is that basically spending is increasing, but so are tax revenues, which means the deficit is going to still stay at $40 billion for the next two to three years. A large debt in the end for the federal government could mean higher taxes.”

Local Members of Parliament (MP) point out that the budget does commit money for a bridge over the Berens River near Pikangikum First Nation, which would connect Pikangikum and other First Nations to highways and communities to the south.

Thunder Bay-Rainy River MP Marcus Powlowski also recognized a larger tax credit for volunteer firefighters and a new loan that guarantees Indigenous participation in natural resource and energy projects.

The budget is subject to a confidence vote in the House of Commons, though no official date for that process to begin has been released.

Kevin Jeffrey, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, TBnewswatch.com