Budget 2017: Liberals missed the opportunity to improve public services

During the 2015 election, Prime Minister Trudeau wrote to all public service workers promising to treat them with respect and restore the cuts made by the previous Conservative government. The second Liberal budget was an opportunity to restore the public service and provide the high-quality public services that Canadians deserve. Instead, the budget provided modest increases and funding and many services were left out.

Food safety

Under the Harper government, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency lost 20% of its workforce and 24% of its budget.

Budget 2017 states that the government will invest up to $149.3 million over five years, starting in 2017–18, to “renew core food safety inspection programming delivered by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and Health Canada”. However, this is not new money, but funding that was already announced.

The funding does nothing to address short staffing at CFIA or fix the problem of under-resourcing of programs that occurred under the Harper government. Rather, the money simply maintains the status quo. PSAC is disappointed that this government has failed to invest in food safety, which affects the health and well-being of all Canadians.

Veterans services

Under Harper, Canada’s veterans were ignored and funding for services was cut dramatically. The Liberal budget has proposed a number of new programs and measures aimed at improving services to Canada’s veterans.

PSAC is heartened to see that this government is making investments into veterans’ services, which are suffering from years of cuts. The Liberal government has also re-opened the nine Veterans Affairs offices that were closed by Harper.

However, the government has still not restored services to their previous levels or adequately staffed the new offices.

Environmental protection

Canada’s environmental protection services were cut significantly under the Harper government, despite increasing threats from climate change and pollution.

The Liberals have proposed some improvements, including providing funding to of $43.8 million to Fisheries and Oceans Canada, $70.5 million to Environment and Climate Change Canada and $364 million to Parks Canada, as well as funding for protection of Canada’s marine environment.

These funding announcements do not restore the previous cuts made, however. As well, the Harper government removed protections from 99% of Canada’s lakes and rivers and eliminated environmental assessments. So far, the Liberal government has not restored this protection.

A lot missing from the budget

Although Budget 2017 provided funding for some public services, many important services were left out.

The budget provided no new funding for the Canada Border Services Agency. Although the budget promised $12.1 million in 2017–18 to Employment and Social Development Canada to develop modern approaches to service delivery, it is unclear to what extent this will restore service capacity or implement the recommendations of the EI service quality review completed earlier this year. The Liberal government promised PSAC/CEIU that they would be included in discussions around the service delivery improvement. We will be holding the government and the department to those promises.     

Also, despite the importance of the immigration centre to the economic sustainability of small rural communities like Vegreville, Alberta, the government did not use the budget as an opportunity to revisit its plans to close the immigration centre there.

The Port of Churchill in Manitoba was also left out of the budget plan. Although ports were mentioned, there was no indication that the government would step up to save the closed Port of Churchill, which is vital to that community.

Public services are vital to protecting the health, safety and security of all Canadians. The Liberal government must fulfill its promises and its mandate by providing quality public services that all Canadians can count on.

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April 6, 2017
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