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Federal Budget 2021: Highlights from Chrystia Freeland's speech and reaction

OTTAWA — Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland tabled the 2021 federal budget in the House of Commons on Monday. Here are some highlights from her speech, as well as quotes from opposition leaders. 

Crisis and recovery 

"This budget is about finishing the fight against COVID. It's about healing the economic wounds left by the COVID recession. And it's about creating more jobs and prosperity for Canadians in the days — and decades — to come."

Government spending 

"Some will say our sense of urgency is misplaced. Some will say that we are spending too much. To them, I ask this: Did you lose your job during a COVID lockdown? Were you reluctantly let go by your small-business employers, who were like a family to you, but simply could not afford your salary any longer?" 

Long-term care 

"We have failed so many of those living in long-term care facilities. To them, and to their families, let me say this: I am so sorry. We owe you so much better than this."

Child care 

"The closing of our schools and daycares drove women's participation in the labour force down to its lowest level in more than two decades. Early learning and child care has long been a feminist issue; COVID has shown us that it is an urgent economic issue, too." 


"We are at a pivotal moment in the green transformation. We can lead, or we can be left behind. Our government knows that the only choice for Canada is to be in the vanguard."

Economic growth 

"Canada is a young, vast country, with a tremendous capacity for growth. This budget will fuel that. These are investments in our future, and they will yield great dividends. In today's low interest rate environment, not only can we afford these investments, it would be short-sighted of us not to make them." 

Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole

On vaccines

"This budget does nothing to answer the calls from Ontario, Quebec, British Columbia and Alberta and other provinces asking for more vaccines. Justin Trudeau has moved too slow for this virus, it's racing ahead of us now, and now he is slow in providing real help for Canadians in this budget."

On what's missing from the budget

"Unfortunately, this budget does next to nothing to secure the Canadian economy. Unemployed Canadians hoping to find work, workers who've had their wages cut due to lockdowns and families hoping for lower taxes to pay down their mortgages or to save for their children's education — they're all going to feel let down by this Liberal budget."

On debt and the economy

"The prime minister also wants to test an out-of-control debt plan without any real stimulus; one that abandons the natural resource sector entirely and provides no real fiscal anchor. This 'Ottawa knows best' approach will continue to lead (to) ballooning housing costs, higher taxes, growing risk of inflation and will leave millions of Canadians behind."

On plans to amend the budget

"Canada's Conservatives were very clear that we wanted to see a return to normal in this budget that would secure jobs for all Canadians in all parts of the country. Mr. Trudeau failed to put forward a plan to help Canadians and he's leaving them behind. That is why the Conservatives will be proposing amendments and our own policies, because we feel this falls so incredibly short." 

On voting against the budget

"We're prepared to vote against it if that's what we come to as a team, but there's not the pressure that there normally is because the NDP have already said they will, in some form, support the budget. So that allows us to actually show how much Mr. Trudeau has missed the mark, propose some amendments that we may be able to secure support from other parties on".

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh

No tax on ultra rich

“There's no measure in this budget to say that it should be the ultra rich who should pay their fair share, it's the ultra rich who should pay for the pandemic. And in rejecting any measure to make the ultra rich pay, what Justin Trudeau is saying is that workers and families are going to have to pay the price.”

Will not trigger election

“We are not going to make an irresponsible decision to in any way jeopardize the safety and security of Canadians. There are a lot of ways to put pressure on the government... There's lots that we can do and there's lots that we continue to do to fight for the help that Canadians need. But it is clearly irresponsible to have an election or to in any way trigger an election while we are in the midst of this third wave. The impact on people would be devastating and we are not going to do that.”

Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet

No help for seniors, no increase to health transfers

"There are some good things in that budget, but there is this point: our parents and grandparents have been completely left aside in the budget. The government will have a deficit, which will go up to $150 billion, without caring enough to provide significant support to the elders and without answering positively a request from all and each of the prime ministers in Canada about a transfer for health care. I cannot so far explain to myself why he would get to that conclusion."

Plans to improve the budget

"We will use each and every possible procedure during the coming days in order to try to convince Parliament that some improvements have to be inserted into that budget, including, of course, support for the elders who terribly need and deserve it and the transfer for health care for the provinces which have unanimously asked for it."

On voting against the budget

"If there is no listening to what we ask for — health care and seniors — we are prepared to vote against the budget. The crisis we are trying to leave behind us is a health crisis. How come in the most important budget of the history of Canada there is nothing to support the health-care systems of the provinces and almost nothing for seniors and absolutely nothing for those who have the problem of being only between 65 and 75 years old?"

On the NDP saying they will not trigger an election

"I am absolutely certain that nobody wants an election."

"The battlefield of the next election is Ontario. Who would even consider going into an election while there are still 4,000 people a day being attacked by this virus? But it is the government's responsibility to make sure that this budget is accepted by the Parliament. I seem to understand that he's made a friend: a friend who'd been his friend for a long time and which has already announced that whatever is in the budget, they would vote for it."

Perrin Beatty, president and CEO, Canadian Chamber of Commerce

“The budget’s focus on growth and jobs is an important step towards our economic recovery, but our growth drivers will need to shift from public investment to private investment to help get our fiscal house in order. The plan to reduce deficits over the coming years is important, but it will depend on our ability to meet our growth targets.”

“To ensure businesses survive until they can become self-sustaining again, we are encouraged to see the extension of support programs like CEWS and CERS to help the hardest-hit sectors and small business. However, the government must ensure that support is not being removed too early and that the level of support does not decrease too quickly. The budget announcements on longer-term competitiveness issues like interprovincial trade barriers, productivity, and reducing the regulatory burden in Canada are very important and should be prioritized.”

Chris Aylward, national president, Public Service Alliance of Canada 

“This historic investment in universal child care is a lifeline for parents who are struggling to afford rising child care fees. This is a major victory for our union and child care advocates who have been fighting for affordable, accessible and universal child care for decades.” 

“It remains disappointing however that the government has failed to act on its commitment to create a national, universal pharmacare program. Canadians need pharmacare now more than ever as workers continue to lose access to prescription drug coverage because of pandemic job losses.”

Paulette Senior, president and CEO, Canadian Women’s Foundation

“The pandemic impacts diverse women in profound ways, threatening gender equality gains Canada has made. Many community leaders called for an equitable feminist recovery plan to address it. This budget makes major moves in the right direction with crucial investments that will make women and gender-diverse people's lives better. And we know that when gender equity is a national priority, everybody benefits.”    

“With this budget, the federal government has made strides toward an economic recovery that focuses on what everyone needs. It centres the concerns of marginalized women and women-majority care workers. They are the ones who have been taking care of Canada in the pandemic. Their safety, well-being, and economic opportunities represents the best return on investment for all families and communities.”

Linda Silas, president, Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions

“Canada’s nurses were counting on the government to honour its previous commitments, including implementing universal public pharmacare, developing national standards for long-term care and meaningfully responding to the growing funding crisis in our health care system. It is disappointing that little progress has been made on these critical issues.”

“If Canada hopes to achieve recovery beyond the COVID-19 pandemic, we will need to invest in the individuals, families and workers who form the backbone of our economy. Budget 2021 represents a missed opportunity to provide critical supports to Canadians still fighting their way through this pandemic.”

Dan Kelly, president, Canadian Federation of Independent Business

“Small businesses have been among the hardest hit by the pandemic, with only 56 per cent fully open across the country a year after the pandemic began. Today's budget delivered meaningful support to many, but there are still critical gaps in the federal relief programs that exclude tens of thousands of hard-hit businesses." 

“We will encourage Parliament to reject the planned luxury tax for certain car, truck and boat purchases on behalf of the small firms who are involved in these important sectors of our economy. While small firms understand the need for large short-term deficits to address the many COVID-related costs, we are concerned about the significant amount of non-COVID spending in this budget. Small business owners worry that today's deficits will turn into tomorrow's taxes. The government must put forward a long-term plan to balance the budget to give business owners much-needed certainty as we all work towards economic recovery.”

Franco Terrazzano, federal director, Canadian Taxpayers Federation

“Make no mistake: the vast majority of measures in this budget have nothing to do with pandemic supports, and everything to do with exploiting a deadly crisis to indulge in a cynical, debt-fuelled spending binge. Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland will increase permanent federal spending by more than $100 billion by 2026 with absolutely no idea how to pay for it.”

“Canadians shouldn’t kid themselves: either spending will have to be reined in, or there will be walloping tax hikes coming eventually. In the meantime, the Trudeau government continues to kick the can down the road, leaving future generations to be stuck paying for their recklessness.”

David Macdonald, senior economist, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives

“This budget delivers big on two lessons that we learned from the pandemic: we need a public-led recovery in the child care and long-term care sectors. But does this budget reflect what we’ve learned from the pandemic in terms of failing to prepare for this deadly third wave, fixing critical flaws in Canada’s social safety net, and preparing for future crises?”

On child care

“After decades of unfulfilled promises to build a universal child care system, this budget could be transformative for the sector. It includes clear targets for fee reduction, although less clear ones for more spaces and better worker pay. If these measures survive the next election and the provinces buy in, this proposal will make a huge difference for families currently struggling to afford high quality care.”

On fiscal sustainability

“There has been ongoing and needless concern about federal interest payments. What’s completely missing from this context is the fact that despite record expenditures, the federal interest bill is at its lowest point since the 1930s. With interest payments hitting lows not seen for a century any concern about high debt payments is certainly misplaced.”

National Chief Perry Bellegarde of the Assembly of First Nations

“In an exceptionally challenging and unpredictable time as the entire country faces the impacts of COVID-19, Budget 2021 puts forward more than $18 billion for Indigenous peoples — a result of sustained advocacy by First Nations to close the socioeconomic gap between First Nations people and the rest of Canada. The realities of First Nations have been exacerbated during the COVID-19 pandemic. These investments will help First Nations respond and recover from the pandemic and will help support plans to end violence against Indigenous women and girls, better support First Nations policing, revitalize our languages and implement legislation related to child and family services.”

“We’ve made significant progress over the last six years toward closing the socioeconomic gap, but progress is not parity. We will not close the gap unless we see sustained investments in proper health care, education and training, water, infrastructure, and housing — basic necessities that too many of our people do not have access to and as a result, continue to hold back First Nations and all of Canada."

Lorraine Whitman, president, Native Women’s Association of Canada 

“This budget makes what appears to be a historic investment of $18 billion in Indigenous communities over five years, including $2.2 billion to deal with the tragedy of the missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and gender-diverse people. This a sign that the government has been listening to what we, at the Native Women’s Association of Canada, have been saying and, at first glance, we are encouraged by the direction taken.”

Tim Gray, executive director, Environmental Defence Canada

“Budget 2021 contains unprecedented investments to tackle climate change and a range of measures targeting other environmental priorities, including a nearly $500 million reinvestment in the chemicals management plan that will provide an opportunity for improvements to the ongoing evaluation and management of toxic chemicals.”

“However, though historic for Canada — $17.6 billion allocated over seven years for a green recovery — the scale of investments falls short of the ambition we see internationally, especially from the United States. A similar level of investment here would translate into $500-$600 billion over the same period. The modest level of investment in climate action, coupled with an ongoing weak regulatory approach, explains why the federal government is only committing to 36 per cent reductions in carbon emissions by 2030, very far from Canada’s fair share of 60 per cent reductions. The budget would also benefit from some more focused commitments around helping Canadian freshwater bodies under threat, and for addressing climate change impacts in the Great Lakes and other freshwater bodies.”

Bryn de Chastelain, chair, Canadian Alliance of Student Associations

“The doubling of the Canada Student Grant for two more years, extending the waiving of interest on federal student loans through March 2023 and ensuring that low-income student borrowers have access to more generous repayment assistance provides security for many.”

“Entering the workforce is an exciting time for students, and work-integrated learning opportunities help to support a smooth transition into the workforce for many students. The investments in job creation through the Student Work Placement Program, Canada Summer Jobs and the Youth Employment and Skills Strategy is an excellent way to ensure that students are ready, and have the opportunity, to enter the labour market and meaningfully contribute to Canada’s economic growth.”

Keith Stewart, senior energy strategist, Greenpeace Canada

“Canadians demanded a green and just recovery. Trudeau has responded with funds for Indigenous communities, child care and climate action, but fails to tackle our fossil fuel addiction and deepening inequality. To build a better normal, we must build back fossil free."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 19, 2021.

The Canadian Press

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