On March 18, 2019, the government tabled its 2019 budget, titled “Investing in the Middle Class.” The Canadian Teachers’ Federation (CTF-FCE) looked to the 2019 budget to assess how allocations and initiatives respond to the advocacy priorities of the over 273,000 public school teachers the CTF-FCE represents across Canada.
To support and advance the needs and priorities of teachers, nearly 5 million students in K-12 public schools, and quality inclusive publicly funded public education overall, the CTF-FCE is committed to advocating for and contributing to improvements related to an extensive set of priorities categorized in three pillars:
• strengthening labour rights and advancing union renewal as a foundation for democracy;
• ensuring adequate funding and resourcing of public education;
• being unwavering in our efforts to advance social justice.
The 2019 federal budget offers a mix of significant future program promises as well as modest, but progressive measures to support and advance many of the advocacy priorities of the CTF-FCE. In this article, we highlight key budgetary measures of significance to the advocacy pillars described above. Here are 10 things you need to know about the 2019 federal budget vis-à-vis the priorities of 273,000 teachers working hard for Canadian kids and our country’s future :
Labour Rights and Union Renewal as a foundation for democracy:
- Proposed new measures to support workers pursue skills training. This includes the “Canada Training Benefit”, the “Canada Training Credit, and the “EI Training Support Benefit”. The Canada Training Credit aims to assist Canadian workers with training fees; each year, “eligible workers between the ages of 25 and 64 would accumulate a credit balance of $250 per year, up to a lifetime limit of $5,000” that can be used to pay for training (p. 38). Budget 2019 states that this new credit will cost “$710 million over five years, starting in 2019–20, and $265 million per year ongoing” (p. 39). The EI Training Support Benefit (projected to start in late 2020) “would be available through the EI program and would provide up to four weeks of income support, every four years” (p. 39). This would be “paid at 55 per cent of a person’s average weekly earnings”, and is aimed to help workers cover their expenses “while on training and without their regular paycheque” (p. 39). This benefit will cost “$1.04 billion over five years, starting in 2019–20, and $321.5 million per year ongoing” (p. 40). These are promising measures, however, as CCPA Senior Researcher Katherine Scott asserts, “Employers are missing in action in this plan, and despite making chronically low investments in on-the-job training, they’ll be the biggest beneficiaries by getting better trained workers.”
- Legislation to proactively enroll Canada Pension Plan (CPP) contributors. In this plan, “contributors who are age 70 or older in 2020 but have not yet applied to receive their retirement benefit” (p. 66) would be proactively enrolled in the CPP. This would result in approximately 40,000 people who are 70 or older and not enrolled in CPP starting to receive a monthly retirement pension of $302 a month on average. This will cost $9.6 million and is to be “sourced from the Canada Pension Plan Account” (p. 66). This measure is a step towards ensuring that all CPP contributors will receive the benefits for which they are eligible.
- Proposed expanded parental leave. Budget 2019 introduces a proposal “to expand parental leave coverage from six months to 12 months for students and postdoctoral fellows who receive granting council funding” through providing “a total of $37.4 million over five years, starting in 2019–20, and $8.6 million per year ongoing, to the federal granting councils” (p. 47). The Budget states that this funding will “help young researchers, especially women” and “help parents better balance work obligations with 2 family responsibilities, such as child care” (p. 47); however, the issue of nationwide affordable childcare options for Canadian workers remains largely unaddressed.
Adequate resourcing for public education:
- A range of relevant services or initiatives. While education is under provincial and territorial jurisdiction1 , the federal government retains significant spending power and authority on programs and initiatives that support public education. This budget contains a range of services or initiatives that address training, gender equality, post-secondary education, Indigenous education, food programs, and STEM, for example, to help support the needs of a robust publicly funded public education system, as well as address socio-economic gaps and inequities. The 2019 budget proposes lowering the floating interest rate for Canada Student Loans and Apprentice Loans to prime, from its current rate of prime plus 2.5 percentage points, starting in 2019–20. Budget 2019 also proposes to lower the fixed interest rate to prime plus 2.0 percentage points, from its current rate of prime plus 5.0 percentage points, starting in 2019–20. Many students, teachers, and families grapple with high student loan debt and this measure will provide both relief to loan borrowers and potential incentive to students. Public education is confronting an increasing crisis in recruiting and retaining qualified teachers, and measures that provide relief to teachers and support for pre-service student teachers, as they obtain their qualifications, are welcomed.
- Poverty reduction. There are multiple measures in the budget that address the government’s poverty reduction plan, including enhancing the Guaranteed Income Supplement earnings exemption, automatically enrolling Canada Pension Plan contributors who are 70 or older in 2020, implementation and funding for Jordan’s Principle, and financing for projects and programs for Seniors, Canada’s Indigenous peoples, and refugees. There are also new housing measures, including the First-Time Home Buyer Incentive, whereby Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) will provide up to $1.25 billion over three years (starting in 2019–20) to eligible home buyers by sharing in the cost of a mortgage. These measures, while welcomed, are fairly modest and predominantly address homeownership needs for the middle class, while missing the opportunity to invest in and build safe and affordable housing for persons living in poverty. There is also a noticeable absence of new investments in both early learning and childcare.
- Gender Equality. The 2018 Federal Budget, dubbed the “Gender Equality Budget” introduced a new Gender Results Framework, and expanded the funding and scope of the Gender-based Analysis Plus [GBA+] tool for assessing intersectional concerns when developing policy and program initiatives. The 2019 Federal Budget commits a further “historic investment” in gender equality spending, adding $160 million between 2019-2024 to the Women’s Program (p. 170). While the advances in funding for gender equality are a step in the right direction, the Canadian Women’s Foundation points out that national strategies on pay equity legislation and funding for child care are not addressed in the budget, both of which are keystones to a gender equitable society.
- Gender, Education, and Skills Development. There are 6 key areas in the Gender Results Framework, the first of which is education and skills development. With the goal of increasing “equal opportunities and diversified paths in education and skills development,” objectives include more women in non-traditional fields of study, such as science, technology, engineering, and mathematics [STEM] (pp. 214-216). Recent 1 in Canada’s Constitution Act, section 93 3 actions include CanCode, a $50-million-dollar program “to teach coding and digital skills to students and teachers from kindergarten to Grade 12,” specifically aimed at girls and students who are underrepresented in STEM fields (p. 218). Introducing coding into schools, through teachers and students, has the potential to reach youth who otherwise might not be exposed to obtaining these skills.
- Mental Health. The 2017 Federal Budget committed $11 billion over a ten-year period for mental health and home care initiatives. Unlike that more unified strategy, the 2019 Budget parses out mental health funding over multiple priorities, most notably vulnerable peoples in Canada, such as Inuit, Indigenous, LGBTQ+, Black, elderly, and veteran communities. The funding includes access to mental health services for Black youth (p. 171), and funding to build healing centres for Inuit and other Nunavut residents (p. 101). What is new in the 2019 Budget is a $25 million strategy for a pan-Canadian suicide prevention service, which will include mental health crisis supports. This pan-Canadian service will be offered in both official languages, with 24/7 access to trained responders for acute mental health crises.
- Climate Change There are multiple measures in Budget 2019 that address climate change action as a priority. Budget 2019 proposes to allocate $350 million for Collaboration on Community Climate Action. As part of this investment, the Budget indicates that the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) and Low Carbon Cities Canada Initiatives will create a network across Canada that will support local community actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Budget 2019 also addresses climate change by proposing several investments of ongoing support for Canada’s Artic and Northern regions and to help First Nations communities prepare for emergencies and better adapt to the threats of climate change. In addition, the Government proposes to introduce legislation that would allow direct proceeds from the regulatory charge on fossil fuels to be directed towards sectors that may be particularly affected by the carbon pollution price.
- Indigenous Education The 2019 Federal budget includes important measures to support and advance Indigenous education, supports, and services. The Assembly of First Nations (AFN) National Chief Perry Bellegarde notes that the 2019 federal budget includes key sustained investments to support success for First Nations children and First Nations governments. According to the AFN, this includes 24 measures for Indigenous peoples, totaling approximately $4.7 billion aimed at a range of initiatives, including languages, post-secondary education, education, economic participation, emergency management, implementing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action, water, health and well-being. The Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK) also welcomes Inuit-specific investments in Budget 2019 for suicide prevention, post-secondary education, and health and social services for Inuit children. However, ITK also states that while the budget proposes a one-time transfer of $2.2 billion in infrastructure investments for communities through the federal Gas Tax Fund, they are “deeply disappointed with the continued exclusion of Inuit from infrastructure investment and decision-making opportunities in our homelands.” 2
There are hopeful signals and progressive new measures in the 2019 budget, indicating that the government is taking seriously its obligations to advance and support the needs and priorities of Canadians. There are also, however, missed opportunities to expand and intensify investments and strategies for bold action on poverty reduction, gender equity, mental health, child care, and labour rights. The CTF-FCE will continue our advocacy efforts to support and protect the needs and priorities of publicly funded public education, teachers, and students across Canada.