OTTAWA — If Canada’s economic recovery is really so “fragile” the federal government shouldn’t be spending billions of dollars on fighter jets, prisons and corporate tax cuts, a think-tank said this week as it released its alternative to the upcoming federal budget.
The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives was to unveil Tuesday its version of how the federal government should be spending taxpayers’ money, calling the governing Conservatives out on one of the party’s favourite battlegrounds: the economy.
“With so much at stake for the financial security of the country — and all Canadians — now isn’t the time to ‘stay the course’ or waste money on questionable corporate tax cuts, fighter jets and jails,” David Macdonald, the centre’s alternative budget co-ordinator, said in a release.
The document set job creation and poverty reduction as the pillars of its alternative budget, saying the federal government’s focus should be on creating 300,000 new jobs to help spur Canada’s continuing recovery from last year’s recession.
Macdonald told Postmedia News the political debate has drifted away from the real concerns of Canadians.
“There’s a big political-intrigue debate in Ottawa that’s going on,” he said. “That’s very removed from the lives of regular Canadians.
“Canadians, when you look (at) polls, the top thing they’re concerned about . . . is their own financial security.”
The report is especially critical of the Conservative government’s $9-billion purchase of the F-35 fighter, and its plans to spend $2 billion to add over 2,700 new spaces to the country’s prison system.
Macdonald said the kind of small tax cuts Canadians may see in this month’s budget won’t be the kind of help they need in the current economic climate.
“Getting $50 or $100 more a year doesn’t mean you can find child care for your kid, and it doesn’t mean you can get your parent in a hospital if you need to.”
The budget looks to slash the defence budget by $6 billion, shrinking spending to pre-9/11 levels. The centre also indicated it would scrap the F-35 fighter purchase in favour of a competitive process, a promise that’s been made by the Opposition Liberals.
The budget also resurrected a couple of former Liberal party platform planks, including plans for a carbon tax — as was proposed by former Liberal leader Stephane Dion — and a national childcare strategy — as was promised by former prime minister Paul Martin before his defeat at the hands of Stephen Harper’s Conservatives.
Macdonald said the money going to corporate tax cuts could be better put into “social infrastructure,” such as national childcare and pharmacare plans.
The think-tank is calling for the national unemployment rate, currently near eight per cent, to be reduced to six per cent, something it says the creation of 300,000 new jobs would help.
Macdonald said those jobs can be created by infrastructure spending, as well as in the health and education sectors.
Canada’s aboriginal affairs policies were also in the crosshairs, as the centre proposed budget measures such as an additional $1 billion to address First Nations housing and water-infrastructure needs.
The alternative budget comes in advance of the upcoming 2012 federal budget to be unveiled by Finance Minister Jim Flaherty on March 22.
It’s been widely speculated the Tories’ minority government could fall before the budget, or be brought down when the budget fails. The Conservatives will need the support of at least one opposition party to pass their financial plan.
“We’re hoping that by putting (the alternative budget) out now, a little in advance of the politicking that’s going to happen . . . that we can inject some ideas into the debate,” Macdonald said.