Today the federal government laid out its latest vision for how it will govern the country and help Canadians recover from the impacts of Covid-19. Gen Squeeze listened to the speech to learn how housing affordability, climate change, the cost of child care and more factor in – particularly in the context of the government’s economic strategy (compared to the immediate steps they’re taking to protect public health).
Here’s our initial take:
On affordability: The speech promised to move forward with enhancements for the relatively new First Time Homebuyers (shared equity) program, noting that the program needs to better serve Canada’s largest cities so families can afford their first homes. This is useful, but not a panacea. It leaves many questions about how to improve affordability for renters, a group that's growing in size as the gap between home prices and local earnings widens.
On real estate and the economy: The throne speech reflected typical language that “housing…. is a key driver of the economy.” This is true but also problematic for affordability. Real estate, rental and leasing represent around 13% of Canada’s economy, but employ only 2% of the workforce. Fuelling the economy through real estate risks growing one of our biggest expenses – housing – without growing jobs in numbers that ensure local earnings keep pace with housing prices. It’s time to prioritize other approaches to stimulate economic growth that are less likely to jack up our major cost of living faster than our incomes.
On making sure our homes are sustainable (while creating jobs and cutting bills): The speech committed to creating thousands of jobs retrofitting homes and buildings, while also cutting energy costs for families and businesses. That would be a triple win!
On homelessness: The speech committed that government would be more ambitious in ending chronic homelessness. Part of the strategy for doing so includes accelerating funds for the non-profit sector to provide more housing. We’ve heard this commitment before, and the sector is anxious to see more money actually flow to build housing asap.
What’s missing? An explicit acknowledgement that not even a global pandemic has been able to stall home prices in this country, since prices reached record highs this summer. If the pandemic won’t stall home prices, what will? The throne speech ignores this problem, and failed to commit explicitly to the goal that everyone living in Canada should be able afford to rent or own a home that meets their needs by 2030. We need this overarching goal to guide all other policy decisions if we are going to restore affordability.
The federal government promised a “significant, long-term, sustained investment to create a Canada-wide early learning and childcare system.” This is great! Gen Squeeze and dozens of others called on the federal government in August to fund and expand child care in response to the pandemic and as part of its plans to build back better.
Why it matters for women: While we know women aren’t the only ones who need child care, they are disproportionately impacted by the availability and affordability of it. "Many women have bravely served on the frontlines of this crisis, in our communities or by shouldering the burden of unpaid care work at home," Governor General Julie Payette said, reading from the speech.
Is this a huge win? Whether this promise will truly make child care affordable depends on how big the investment is. As called for by Child Care Now (a coalition Gen Squeeze is a part of), $2 billion more needs to be invested this year, $4 billion next year, $6 billion in year three on route to $10+billion annually. If these aren’t the funds on the table, then child care won’t be affordable ($10/day or less), available in sufficient numbers, high quality, or pay equity wages to the predominantly female work force.
After weeks of speculation, the speech committed to climate action as a key driver of Canada’s economic recovery, and a cornerstone of the short-term goal to create 1 million new jobs to mitigate the losses caused by Covid-19.
On targets: It reaffirmed Canada’s commitment to “immediately bring forward a plan to exceed Canada’s 2030 climate goal,” and legislate Canada’s goal of net-zero emissions by 2050. These were commitments that Gen Squeeze advocated for in the 2020 federal budget. Thumbs up!
On pricing pollution: The speech also reinforced Canada’s commitment to price pollution and return the proceeds back to Canadians. Gen Squeeze was in the Supreme Court today as part of our Intergenerational Climate Coalition to defend a national price on carbon pollution as a measure to protect discrimination against younger Canadians and future generations, whose health and economic wellbeing are threatened by worsening impacts.
What’s missing? Many of these commitments aren’t new, so prioritizing action (and policies) that move them forward quickly will be the difference between rhetoric and reality.
BUDGETING FOR ALL GENERATIONS
While it’s too early to tell how today’s Throne Speech commitments will influence the next federal budget, Gen Squeeze will be paying particular attention to whether that budget (a) acknowledges, through its investments, that social spending promotes our health and life expectancy more than does spending on medical care; and (b) that the dollar investments allocated to the child care promise and the youth employment and skills strategy are in proportion to the funds that get allocated to long-term care and retirement income security, etc. We’re looking for budgets that work for all generations.
On the debt: The throne speech emphasized that now is not the time for “austerity.” As this year’s deficit surpasses $300 billion, Canada needs more public dialogue about how we plan to manage the scale of borrowing that’s been needed to help people during this pandemic. This includes conversation about what it means for paying the interest now and into the future, as well as who is expected and able to help cover these costs.
On paying our collective bills: In terms of who is able to pay for pandemic expenses, it’s interesting to note that the government aims to “identify additional ways to tax extreme wealth.” While we’re not sure what is meant by “extreme” wealth, Gen Squeeze’s “Tax Shift” recommendations have urged governments to consider cutting taxes on low- and middle-incomes, and making up this revenue by taxing wealth more, like when people have millions in real estate investments.