April 4, 2012

One thing most of us learned about budgeting is that a budget is all about priorities. We have to identify those things that are most important to us and then use whatever money we have to make it all happen.

This is best way to look at the federal government’s March 29th 2012 budget. Who is important out there in civil society?

The first hint came in the form of a whisper from the Alps that Canada couldn’t afford the current social safety net for seniors and that raising the age for retirement benefits was written in the stars.

Even with the early warning, when the actual announcement came March 29th 2012, it still shocked the nation. Whaaaat? I didn’t hear anything about that during the last election campaign? What’s happening to my country?

Meanwhile, the Vanier Institute of the Family in its annual paper on Canadian Family Finances reported earlier in March that this was the first year that baby boomers turned 65. Great timing.  

And what about trust and public confidence? The RRSP initiative that first began in 1957 has been one of the most successful government programs ever. It not only stimulated generations of people to save for retirement but revolutionized financial planning in Canada. We’ve been promised Freedom 55 for half a century. How could such an iconic ideal fall apart so quickly? – and now be treated like it never happened. How could we go from 55 to 67 so quickly?

This does not come as a surprise to an investor class of billionaires that despises unions, universal health care, government regulation, social programs generally and endlessly seek to reduce or eliminate corporate taxes.

In fact, the March 29th 2012 budget not only betrays the coveted Canadian dream of Freedom 55 and old age security, but ignores completely the reality of Canadian middle and lower income groups – that they have been subsidizing their incomes since the 1970s by using credit – because their wages (and pensions) have not been sufficient to meet the basic inflationary costs of living.  

It just seems to me that those who have mothered and fathered families and worked hard all of their lives are being treated like high school drop outs. Like we don’t have any rights or deserve any respect for our contributions. Only money (and politics) matter. Our health deteriorates in many ways as we get older. Adding further financial pressures to older people will raise anxiety levels and likely increase the costs to the health care system – and corporate insurance providers as an increase in paid leaves of absences is predictable.  Plus, look at all of the employment opportunities being denied young people with good health and high energy levels.

In other words these people (us) and their (our) issues are not a priority in the March 2012 federal budget. This budget does nothing to address the multiple factors causing the impoverishment of a massive number of Canadians. It actually contributes to the downward spiral as it eliminates 19,000 federal government jobs.   

At precisely the same time, the March 2012 budget encourages people to spend more and more outside of the country by increasing the amount of tax-free purchases. As of June 2012 tax-free purchases will go from $50 for trips of 24 hours outside of the country to $200, from $400 for 48-hour excursions to $800 and from $750 - $800. for trips of a week or more.

How does this benefit Canada? We lose an estimated $17 million in tax revenues and encourage Canadians to shop in other countries. Why not buy Canadian? Why not some family-friendly tax breaks for families and seniors? We could really use a few more pennies.

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