Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland, centre, tables the federal budget in the House of Commons in Ottawa on Monday April 19, 2021. The federal government unveiled spending plans to manage the remainder of the COVID-19 crisis and chart an economic course for a post-pandemic Canada. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland, centre, tables the federal budget in the House of Commons in Ottawa on Monday April 19, 2021. The federal government unveiled spending plans to manage the remainder of the COVID-19 crisis and chart an economic course for a post-pandemic Canada. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Conservatives, Bloc Quebecois to propose budget rewrites as debate starts

O’Toole has signalled that his party will propose its own economic recovery plan

OTTAWA — Opposition parties will get a chance today to propose a rewrite to the federal government’s massive pandemic budget.

Debate on Monday’s budget begins today in the House of Commons.

As the official Opposition, the Conservatives will propose an amendment to the budget and the Bloc Quebecois, as the third-largest party, will propose a sub-amendment.

Both intend to use the opportunity to fashion an economic blueprint more to their liking.

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole has signalled that his party will propose its own economic recovery plan, while Bloc Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet has indicated that his party will attempt to redress what it sees as two “unacceptable omissions” in the budget: the failure to accede to premiers’ demand for an additional $28 billion each year in health-care transfer payments and the failure to provide increased old age security benefits for all seniors.

Votes on the amendment and sub-amendment will come later in the week and, depending on their wording, could be deemed a test of confidence in Justin Trudeau’s minority Liberal government.

However, with NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh promising that his party won’t do anything to trigger an election in the midst of the deadly third wave of COVID-19, there is little chance the government will fall.

O’Toole said Monday that the NDP’s pledge to prop up the government on budget votes frees up his party “to actually show how much Mr. Trudeau has missed the mark, propose some amendments that we may be able to secure support from other parties on.”

“The Conservatives will be proposing amendments and our own policies because we feel this falls so incredibly short,” he said.

Among other things, O’Toole indicated that would include an alternative to the budget’s centrepiece plan to invest $30 billion over five years, and $8.3 billion a year thereafter, to create an affordable national early learning and child care program.

Conservatives, he said, prefer an approach that would allow parents to make their own child care choices. That could mean increasing the Canada Child Benefit, rather than investing in child care.

O’Toole also slammed the budget’s “out-of-control” spending — just over $100 billion in new spending to stimulate the economic recovery, on top of an unprecedented deficit of $354 billion in the 2020-21 fiscal year.

The budget, he predicted, will lead to “ballooning housing costs, higher taxes, a growing risk of inflation and will leave millions of Canadians behind.”

Bloc Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet was not quite so negative. He welcomed the government’s decision to go heavily into debt to spur economic growth.

But he said it’s “inexplicable in a budget of this magnitude that there is no increase in health transfers and the complete abandonment of seniors.”

The budget actually promises a 10 per cent hike in old age security for Canadians 75 years of age and over. But the Bloc wants that increase to apply to all seniors as of age 65.

The Bloc also wants Ottawa to accede to premiers’ demands for a $28-billion-a-year increase in unconditional health transfers to the provinces.

“We are going to act and propose an amendment to the budget in order to carry out these two essential measures,” Blanchet said in a statement Monday.

Both O’Toole and Blanchet said their parties are prepared to vote against the budget, but it was not clear Monday whether either party’s proposed amendments today will include an explicit statement of non-confidence in the government.

While the opposition parties are proposing their own budgetary fixes today, Trudeau and his finance minister, Chrystia Freeland, will be launching a full-court press to sell the budget, as written, to Canadians.

The pair will hold a joint news conference and later in the day Trudeau is scheduled to virtually visit a medium-sized business in Quebec to highlight the budget’s measures to help small- and medium-size businesses.

Starting Wednesday, all cabinet ministers will be pressed into service, hosting events and giving speeches in their regions to extoll the virtues of the budget. They’ll start Wednesday with a focus on the child care initiative and zero in on other themes in the budget on subsequent days.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 20, 2021.

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