Budget 2019: Five things to watch for in the Liberals’ final fiscal blueprint

Budget 2019: Five things to watch for in the Liberals’ final fiscal blueprint
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OTTAWA — Finance Minister Bill Morneau will release the Trudeau government’s final budget of its mandate Tuesday, just seven months before the next federal election.

Here are some things to watch for:

A boost to skills training

The government says it wants to help workers adapt to the rapidly changing needs of the modern workforce. The budget is expected to announce measures to help Canadians cover their bills if they choose to head back to school to upgrade their skills or to change careers. Morneau has also said he wants to make sure workers have dedicated time off so they can get that skills training. As part of the package, the Liberals plan to create a lifelong savings account for adults after drawing inspiration from a similar program launched a few years ago in Singapore, said a government source, who was not authorized to speak publicly because the plan is not yet released. The program is expected to share traits with Canada’s registered education savings plan (RESP), but be aimed at mid-career adults rather than youth. In late 2017, Morneau’s council of economic advisers recommended such a program, which the group called the “Canada Lifelong Learning Fund.”

Helping more millennials buy homes

The budget will include plans to help more first-time buyers enter the housing market, changes that will arrive at a time of out-of-reach real estate prices in some parts of the country. Morneau has said he’s particularly focused on helping millennials, a generation of people who are now in their mid-20s to late 30s. His budget will make home-buying more affordable with a series of changes affecting housing supply, demand and regulation, a government source said.

(Early) steps toward national pharmacare

The Liberals also plan to move toward their two main goals on pharmacare: keeping costs down and ensuring better coverage for everyone. Earlier this month, an advisory panel assembled by Ottawa released an interim report that recommended the federal government create a new agency to oversee the rollout of a national drug plan, the first part of a much broader pharmacare program. The panel, led by former Ontario health minister Eric Hoskins, said the federal government should also develop a national list of drugs to ensure consistent coverage across the country. It called for funding to gather better data on prescription medications. Some have high hopes Tuesday’s budget will include an extensive pharmacare component, but a government source said any firm commitments won’t go much beyond the interim report’s recommendations.

On or off the fiscal track?

In November, Morneau predicted annual deficits of $18.1 billion in 2018-19, $19.6 billion in 2019-20 and $18.1 billion in 2020-21. After 2020-21, the annual shortfalls were expected to shrink each year, reaching $11.4 billion in 2023-24. Ottawa’s fiscal track promises to be a key issue in the October election campaign — with Liberals calling for investments to lift long-term growth and the Opposition Conservatives demanding balanced books to ensure future generations aren’t stuck with the tab.

Lifeline for the news industry

The Trudeau government is due to deliver an update to its plan to support the ailing journalism industry. Last fall, it announced new tax credits and incentives worth $595 million over the next five years. Ottawa said it would create an independent panel of experts from the journalism community to seek advice on the measures and, in particular, define which outlets will be eligible for a refundable tax credit on labour costs. But it has yet to assemble the panel, which has raised concerns in the news industry that the support is taking too long to materialize. A spokesman for Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez said last week that the budget will lay out details of the measures announced in the fall.

Andy Blatchford, The Canadian Press

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