Federal budget to be presented in the House of Commons Tuesday afternoon by Finance Minister Bill Morneau. (File photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Liberals take aim at 2019 election with budget to focus on gender equality

OTTAWA — Gender equality and a national pharmacare plan are expected to be two of the cornerstones of the federal budget when it is presented in the House of Commons Tuesday afternoon by Finance Minister Bill Morneau.

He has already hinted at efforts to boost the participation of women in the workforce as part of an overall plan to promote so-called inclusive growth.

One measure expected in the spending plan is dedicated paid leave for new fathers — or, in the case of same-sex relationships, the non-birthing parent. The goal is to allow parents to handle the task of raising children more equitably.

The focus on gender equality — a key priority for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government — could also mean federal dollars to help close the gender wage gap in federally regulated workplaces.

The budget will also include plans to take the first steps toward a national pharmacare plan — a strategy which would outflank NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, who has made such a program one of his top priorities.

Senior government officials have told The Canadian Press on condition of anonymity that former Ontario health minister Eric Hoskins will be tasked with leading the effort to breathe life into the pharmacare plan.

Hoskins hinted at his new position when he abruptly resigned both his cabinet position and his seat in the Ontario legislature Monday, saying he was leaving “to continue building better health care for all Canadians.”

The parliamentary budget watchdog calculated last fall that a national, universal pharmacare program would cost more than $19 billion, but could still slash the overall cost of drugs in Canada by more than $4 billion a year.

The federal budget is not expected to balance the books, nor is it likely to include a revised timeline for erasing the deficit, which the Liberals initially pledged to do by 2019.

The budget is instead expected to unveil major investments in basic scientific research and environmental conservation.

It is also expected to include nearly $80 million over five years to build and run a computer system aimed at ending no-fly list mismatches and $50 million over five years to support local journalism in underserved communities.

Investments in child welfare and housing for Indigenous communities, expanding a tax credit for low-income earners and spending to help Canadians upgrade their skills for a rapidly changing job market are other expected budget measures.

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