The first 2021 federal budget in two years offered little direct help to help lift Newfoundland and Labrador out of its crushing debt, but the focus on continued COVID-19 aid and the strengthening of social programs will be welcomed by concerned residents of the province. , as well as companies trying to stay afloat in a declining economy.
Besides the new taxation of e-commerce activities, it offered little new revenue other than taxes on expensive boats and luxury cars, a tax on vacant properties owned by non-Canadian entities and an additional $ 4 on a cartridge. of cigarettes.
The budget, billed as a package to “end the fight against COVID-19 and ensure a solid economic recovery”, offered help for everything from minimum wage earners and students to tourism operators and arts organizations.
“I hope we can encourage more people to participate in our program and then get them back to work.”
“We need to get out of this COVID recession,” Finance Minister Chystia Freeland said at a pre-budget press conference. “It means bringing back the lost jobs as quickly as possible.”
One of the main areas of focus – and one of the least kept secrets – was a national child care program, representing a $ 30 billion investment over five years in child care and education. early childhood.
“This is incredible news, if it continues today,” said Krista Koerner, executive director of the Single Parent Association of Newfoundland and Labrador (SPANL) Monday morning.
Koerner says single parents often say they can’t even take advantage of SPANL programs to get them back to work because they can’t find daycare to assist them.
She says the pandemic has highlighted the extent of the problem of lack of access to child care services, as many people who usually can afford them cannot take advantage of them during times of lockdown.
“I hope we can encourage more people to participate in our program and then get them back to work,” Koerner said.
The most welcome news for unions and poverty watchdogs has been a federal minimum wage of $ 15, a move long demanded by advocacy groups that will see federally regulated workers get $ 2.50 over the hour in Newfoundland and Labrador.
It is estimated that the move will affect 26,000 workers across the country.
“I hope this starts to spread to the provinces, because we believe this is a huge thing that must happen to all these workers who fall through the cracks, especially now”, Mary Shortall, President of the Federation Newfoundland and Labrador Labor, told the Telegram on Monday evening.
She is also impressed with funding for child care and other initiatives such as extending EI sickness benefits to 26 weeks.
“I think the message they really got is that the responsibility of government, especially now, and perhaps with the lessons learned from COVID, is not just to balance the budget. It’s actually about ensuring the well-being of its citizens, ”she said.
The key to recovery is not austerity, she said.
“It’s about rebuilding the economy by ensuring that no one is left behind. And it looks like they do, ”Shortall said.
Fight the storm
As the pandemic rages on more than a year after its onset, Federal Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland said about 300,000 Canadians who had jobs before the pandemic are still out of work and more Canadians in provinces hard hit like Ontario could lose their jobs in this situation. lockdowns of the month.
To support these workers as the economy recovers, Ottawa will maintain flexible access to Employment Insurance (EI) benefits for another year, until fall 2022.
For those who do not qualify for EI, the Canadian Restoration Benefit will remain in effect until September 25 to extend an additional 12 weeks of benefits.
The budget also includes billions in ongoing aid to businesses to help subsidize employee salaries and rental costs.
“We have to end the fight against COVID, and it takes a lot of money.” Freeland said Monday, explaining his government’s continued spending on relief funding.
St. John’s Chamber of Commerce President AnnMarie Boudreau said Monday she was concerned about the unprecedented $ 354.2 billion deficit in 2020-21 and an additional $ 154.7 billion in 2021 -2022, but said she understood the unique circumstances.
“We know there is a balance between supporting COVID-19 and economic recovery and we will continue to delve into the details of this budget and discuss with our members in the days and weeks to come, putting the focus on business resilience and economic recovery, ”she said. in a report.
The budget identifies the Atlantic provinces as particularly vulnerable when it comes to the tourism sector and contains a number of measures aimed at helping the tourism industry stay afloat as the country waits for vaccines to finally come in. force. a new package of support totaling $ 1 billion over three years will begin this year.
• $ 200 million through regional development agencies to support major festivals.
• $ 200 million through Canadian Heritage to support local festivals, community cultural events, outdoor theatrical performances, heritage celebrations, local museums and amateur sporting events,
• $ 100 million to Destination Canada for marketing campaigns to help Canadians and other visitors discover and explore the country.
• $ 500 million for a tourism relief fund administered by regional development agencies. The fund will support investments by local tourism businesses in tailoring their products and services to public health measures and other investments that will help them recover from the pandemic and position themselves for future growth.
Peter Jackson is a reporter for the Local Journalism Initiative.