Little cause for workers to celebrate in federal budget

As expected, the federal Conservative government's budget for 2014-15, released Thursday, provided little in the way of new spending to improve employment in Canada. There is a few million here, a few million there for job training programs, but overall it is an austerity budget with very little direct job creation.

 The government trumpeted its plans to increase infrastructure spending -- generally associated with strong short-term job creation -- by $70 billion over the next decade. But most of that spending is planned for later rather than sooner, and according to economist David Macdonald of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, infrastructure transfers to cities will actually see a $1 billion cut in 2014-15 – from $1.25 billion to only $210 million.

Other elements of the budget touching on employment include:

-A new "Canada Job Grants" program that will re-direct $500 million annually from current transfers to provinces for job training programs. The program will rely on the provinces and employers each matching a $5,000 contribution from the feds for the training of a worker. It won't start up for at least another year.

-$222 million a year for new "labour market agreements" focused on people with disabilities;

-a promise of $70 million over three years to support 5,000 paid internships and $241 million over five years for skills training programs for First Nations; 

-extension of last year's $1,000 credit on EI premiums for each new hire made by small businesses;

-tax breaks for manufacturers investing in new machinery and equipment;

-and, plans to review sick leave benefits for public service workers "with a view to ensuring that public servants receive appropriate services that support a more timely return to work." (Don't even try to go there, says the union representing the majority of federal public servants.)

Overall, austerity measures in this and the previous two budgets will translate to roughly 90,000 fewer positions in the public and private sector, estimates Macdonald.

 

Lori Theresa Waller is rabble.ca's labour reporter.

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