Yesterday, Finance Minister Flaherty's budget plan predicted a deficit of $33.7 billion for the 2009-10 fiscal year, with total spending of $83.8 billion anticipated over the next five years. Today, the Liberal opposition has put the Conservative government on probation, demanding performance updates on the implementation of the 2009 budget in March, June and December, each of which will be the subject of a non-confidence vote.
What does all that money mean for Canadians at work and out of work?
Over the next two years, the government will funnel approximately 10% of the $83.8 billion into initiatives directly related to Canada's workforce.
- Freezing EI premium rates at $1.73 per $100 for both 2009 and 2010 - their lowest level since 1982 - a projected $4.5 billion stimulus.
- Increasing, for two years, all regular Employment Insurance (EI) benefit entitlements by five extra weeks, increasing the maximum benefit duration to 50 weeks, at a cost of $1.15 billion.
- Providing $500 million over two years to extend EI income benefits for Canadians participating in longer-term training, benefiting up to 10,000 workers who have worked for a single company or industry over a long period of time.
- The government will spend $200 million to extend work-sharing agreements by 14 weeks, to a maximum of 52 weeks, that would allow workers to receive EI benefits if they work fewer hours while their employers recover.
- Extending the Wage Earner Protection Program to cover severance and termination pay owed to eligible workers impacted by employers’ bankruptcy, at a cost of an estimated $50 million over two years.
- Consulting and developing options to provide self-employed Canadians with access to EI maternity and parental benefits.
- Increasing funding for training delivered through the Employment Insurance program by $1 billion over two years.
- Providing $50 million over two years for a national foreign credential recognition framework in partnership with provinces and territories.
- Investing $500 million over two years in a Strategic Training and Transition Fund to support the particular needs of individuals who do not qualify for EI training, such as the self-employed or those who have been out of work for a prolonged period of time.
- Providing $55 million over two years towards youth summer job programs.
- Providing $40 million a year to launch a grant incentive to complete apprenticeship training.
- Providing $87.5 million a year to boost the number of Canadian Graduate Scholarships, providing funding for 500 more doctoral and 1,000 more master's students. Of that, $70 million would go to students in sciences and engineering. The remaining $17.5 million would be directed towards students working on business-related degrees.
- An additional $60 million over three years for the Targeted Initiative for Older Workers and expanding it to include workers in small cities.
- Responding to skilled labour shortages with $40 million a year to launch the $2,000 Apprenticeship Completion Grant.
- An additional $100 million over three years for training through the Aboriginal Skills and Employment Partnership, which is expected to support the creation of 6,000 jobs; and $75 million toward a two-year Aboriginal Skills and Training Strategic Investment Fund for short-term, partnership-based programs.
All in, the budget will direct approximately $8.5 billion into employment initiatives. But, critics of the budget would have liked to see an extension on the eligibility criteria for EI, and the Liberals have stated that if the unemployment situation worsens, with no corresponding response from the government, that could be grounds for unseating the Conservatives.
Mr. Flaherty expects Canadians will begin to see the impacts of the budget and its stimulus package within six to 12 months. Unfortunately, within that timeframe we continue to anticipate high unemployment rates, mass termination announcements and a slowdown in company spending and capital projects; however, the billions of dollars flowing into infrastructure projects, and massive spending in agriculture, technology, the environment, healthcare and social programs will have a positive impact on boosting Canada's employment outlook.