Economic update 2021: Public service workers and programs critical to pandemic recovery

The federal government’s fall fiscal update reaffirms the vital role of public service workers and the benefits they continue to provide to support Canadians through the pandemic.

It’s reassuring to see the Liberal government pledge to renew support for Canadians hardest hit by COVID-19 and reject austerity measures that would have a devastating impact on workers and their families.

Conservatives have been renewing calls for reduced public spending because of the growing deficit and rising inflation, but the Economic and Fiscal Update shows that those calls are misplaced. The economy is growing and looks better than the 2021 federal budget projections. Stephen Harper’s Conservative government severely cut public services after the last recession, and it has taken almost a decade to recover critical programs and services that were lost.

“Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has promised to build a Canada that leaves nobody behind,” said Chris Aylward, PSAC national president. “Pay cuts and an austerity agenda would hurt workers at this critical moment – and that’s simply not what a progressive government would do.”

Public service workers and public spending continue to be important ways to mitigate the impacts of the pandemic, especially on marginalized communities, climate change and longstanding issues of poverty and inequality.

What we’re happy to see:

  • A plan for national paid sick leave: After introducing legislation to provide 10 days of paid sick leave for workers in federally regulated workplaces, the government now intends to convene a gathering of provinces, territories, and others to develop a national action plan on paid sick leave. Paid sick leave is critical for all workers to ensure they do not have to choose between going to work sick or paying the bills.

  • Help for post-secondary students: The government will attempt to reverse the difficult financial situation facing so many post-secondary students by providing them with relief for unexpected debt from CERB payments. This is a necessary correction.

  • Home tax allowance: An increase in the work from home tax allowance to $500 per year.

  • Extensions and increases to recovery benefits: Ongoing funding for sickness and caregiver recovery benefits will provide further – but temporary – relief to workers.

  • More funding for immigration: The goal is to process more permanent resident and temporary resident applications, reduce processing times in key areas affected by the pandemic and facilitate the safe passage and resettlement of Afghan refugees. 

  • Better ventilation in federal buildings: Funding for improved ventilation in government workplaces, as a result of the pandemic.

What’s missing:

  • National pharmacare: Once again, the government doesn’t address the need for a national pharmacare plan. This omission is increasingly problematic, especially as inflation, unemployment and the pandemic are making the cost of living higher for all but the most affluent.

  • Employment Insurance reform: The government must still develop real improvements to Employment Insurance, creating a simpler and inclusive program that provides security for all Canadians, especially those who are already in precarious work situations performing low-paid, gig-economy work. Most of those helped by these measures – women, Black, Indigenous and racialized workers, and workers with disabilities would benefit more from the stability of an improved and permanent suite of programs including EI, disability supports and other measures.

  • Child care: We’ll be watching for more information on the rollout of the critical investment in the national, universal child care program and finalizing child care agreements with all provinces and territories.

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December 17, 2021