OTTAWA—The federal Opposition parties greeted the long-awaited economic update with a big collective thumbs down.
The initial reactions of Opposition leaders signal new spending measures, totalling $25 billion, may not find support across the aisle, which could trigger another crisis of confidence in the minority Trudeau government.
Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole in the Commons slammed the economic statement because it did not detail its plan for vaccine delivery.
It did refer to a total of $13 billion in spending on COVID-19 medical research and vaccines, but officials refused to be specific about how much would be spent on each vaccine candidate according to seven contracts negotiated so far.
“Canadians want their lives back,” O’Toole said. “And they have only asked one thing of this government…what is the plan?”
“Well,” O’Toole continued, “this fall economic statement answers that question. There is no plan.”
“Without a plan for vaccines, there can be no long-term plan for the economy,” he said.
In later televised interviews, O’Toole welcomed certain measures, like the increased Canada Child Benefit — for which he took credit, saying it was in his leadership platform —and more money for long-term care. But he questioned why there were strings attached to long term care dollars – for infection controls – when the provinces would know best what’s needed. O’Toole said his party would generally prefer to see tax relief for consumers, but he would wait to review the proposal to put more taxes on digital giants.
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O’Toole said his overall take was “disappointment,” telling CTV it had “all the trappings of a budget,” but “we need a plan.” He said his party is “probably going to reject” the Freeland document when its measures come to a vote.
The Bloc Québécois House leader Alain Therrien agreed that a recovery plan depends on a vaccine plan, and questioned the failure to increase the health-care transfer to provinces.
To date, the Liberals have survived with the support of the NDP. But that is not a given.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh also suggested he too would vote against the update, saying it did not do enough on child care or pharmacare, and it didn’t do enough to help Canadians who are struggling.
Meanwhile, he said, it fails to tax the wealthiest appropriately, including digital technology giants, and fails to “make sure they pay their fair share, again completely failing to do that. And the cost of failing to do that is if you don’t make those that are profitable, those ultra wealthy, the ultra rich, pay their fair share, people pay the price.
“Then everyone else, everyday families that pay their fair share, don’t get the help the need,” Singh told CTV. “That’s the cost. That’s what this Liberal government is doing, they’re choosing to protect the profits of the wealthiest and they’re hurting people as a result”
Green Leader Annamie Paul in a statement said Freeland’s plan “stopped short of presenting a comprehensive plan for the path forward on completing the social safety net and launching a green recovery plan that would accelerate progress toward a net-zero carbon economy.”
“There is no mention of the government convening with the provinces, territories and other stakeholders to reform long-term care and to bring it under the Canada Health Act,” she said. “Given that LTC facilities remain the epicentre of COVID-19 deaths, this should be a top priority. There is also no mention of working with these same partners to introduce a guaranteed livable income, and without one there will always be people that fall through the cracks.”
Tonda MacCharles is an Ottawa-based reporter covering federal politics for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @tondamacc
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