Opposition leaders criticize federal budget over pharmacare, old age security

Federal opposition leaders are criticizing the Liberal government's first budget in two years for omitting pharmacare and failing to provide a bigger boost to old age security or provincial health care transfers. 

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh still says his party won't trigger a pandemic election

Conservative Party Leader Erin O'Toole, left, and Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet say they are not happy with the Liberal budget. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

Federal opposition leaders are criticizing the Liberal government's first budget in two years for omitting pharmacare, failing to adequately boost Old Age Security and not speeding up the pace of vaccinations.

Budget debate began in the House of Commons Tuesday, with party leaders pushing to shape the economic blueprint into something more to their liking.

Federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said he knows where he's seen two of the Liberals' signature budget promises before — in his own party's election platforms.

Singh said the spending plan tabled by Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland borrows heavily from the New Democrats' promises in 2015 and 2019 to introduce universal child care.

He said another commitment the NDP made first is the $15 federal minimum wage. 

Despite his criticisms, Singh has said he won't do anything that would send the country into an election as provinces deal with a deadly third wave of COVID-19, driven by more transmissible strains of the virus.

The Liberals need the support of at least one federal party for the budget to pass in the minority Parliament. 

Singh cast doubt on whether Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's government will deliver on its child care pledge, pointing out that the Liberals have been promising to improve the system since the 1990s.

"How can Canadians believe them now?" Singh asked in the House of Commons.

Tories, Bloc propose amendments

Pharmacare is another piece missing from the 2021 spending plan, the NDP leader said, arguing the Liberals chose to please "Big Pharma" over working families. 

"I would say that this Liberal budget is the best budget we could have had for 2015," said NDP MP Charlie Angus. 

"In 2015, the New Democrats ran on child care and the Liberals ridiculed us. $10-a-day child care, they thought was so ridiculous ... now they understand the wisdom of it."

As the official Opposition, the Conservatives put forward an amendment to the budget and the Bloc Quebecois, as the third-largest party in the Commons, proposed a sub-amendment.

Neither contained a statement of non-confidence, although both leaders have said their parties are prepared to vote against the budget.

...all our MPs have been contacting us since yesterday to tell us the number of people aged 70, 75 who are extremely upset by this budget. I've rarely seen indignation at this level.- Bloc Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet

Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole criticized Trudeau for having promised child care for a long time without bringing it to the provinces for consultation.

"The Liberal Party of Canada has promised a national daycare plan nine times," he said. "Even cats only have nine lives.

"I think Canadian families, particularly in a pandemic, want certainty and want flexibility, particularly with more families that may have partial work at home, needs where they can rely on families or others."

Conservative finance critic Ed Fast asked the House of Commons in his motion to revise the budget to focus on speeding up Canada's vaccination campaign, and on policies that guarantee jobs and economic growth.

The motion also took aim at the "half a trillion dollars in new debt" — which Conservatives say will have to be paid for through higher taxes — and the fact that the Liberals have not ruled out imposing capital gains taxes on the principal residences of Canadians to cover its spending.

Bloc Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet brought forward a sub-amendment to address what his party sees as two "unacceptable omissions" in the budget — the first being the failure to accede to premiers' demand for an additional $28 billion each year in health-care transfer payments, which he called a "slap in the face" to Quebec and other provinces.

The second deals with what Blanchet says is a failure to provide increased Old Age Security (OAS) benefits to all seniors, the group most devastated by the novel coronavirus.

"I don't know what world Mr. Trudeau lives in, but all our MPs have been contacting us since yesterday to tell us the number of people aged 70, 75 who are extremely upset by this budget. I've rarely seen indignation at this level," Blanchet said in French during a news conference. 

Liberals launch budget sales pitch

The budget actually promises a 10 per cent hike in OAS for Canadians 75 years of age and over. But the Bloc wants that increase to apply to all seniors as of age 65.

As for provincial health transfers, the budget reiterates a federal announcement in March that promised a $4 billion one-time top-up but did not include any extra long-term spending.

Votes on the amendment and sub-amendment will come later in the week. Depending on their wording, they could be deemed a test of confidence in Trudeau's minority Liberal government.

While the opposition parties proposed their own budgetary fixes, Trudeau and Freeland launched a full-court press to sell the budget, as written, to Canadians.

"This budget lays out a plan for good, middle-class jobs and a clean, resilient economy that works for everyone," Trudeau told a news conference.

"From creating a million jobs by the end of the year, to ensuring $10-a day child care in five years, to reaching net-zero emissions in less than 30 years, it all comes down to this: good jobs, a strong and fair economy and a healthy environment."

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