Letter to Federal Finance Minister John Manley Regarding the Forthcoming Federal Budget
The Honourable John Manley
Deputy Prime Minister
Finance Minister of Canada
House of Commons
Dear Mr. Manley:
Like many Canadians, the members of the Episcopal Commission for Social Affairs are awaiting the forthcoming federal budget with hopeful expectations. When attempting to discern the most heartfelt desires of our communities, we have heard their cry for justice and equity. In carefully listening to the needs of our people, we have also stretched our hearts to comprehend the needs of people in other lands. When Canadians speak of their communities, our reflection has also been guided by the Book of Proverbs, which cautions:
Do not withhold good from
Those to whom it is due,
When it is in your power to do it.
Do not say to your neighbour,
Go, and come again,
Tomorrow I will give it” –
When you have it with you. (3.27-28)
A federal budget’s spending priorities speak volumes about the underlying values that are chosen to guide the common life of neighbours. Realizing this, we would like to see the next federal budget take decisive action in the important areas of healthcare, environmental protection, child and family poverty, and international development assistance.
Healthcare in Canada
The Christian Churches presented a Health Care Covenant for All People in Canada as our contribution to the healthcare debate, and we were pleased to see that Mr. Romanow selected this idea as the first recommendation of his Commission’s report. The key values of solidarity, community, equity, compassion and efficiency (which undergird Medicare today) are the values that should take priority over a market-driven approach to healthcare. From this perspective, health should be seen as holistic – including physical, emotional, spiritual and social well-being – and as a public good. Therefore, we oppose any further expansion of for-profit healthcare delivery.
In the upcoming federal budget, building upon the recent arrangement among the First Ministers, we hope to see the federal government move resolutely to ensure substantially increased financial commitment to healthcare (Mr. Romanow suggested that the federal cash floor should be 25 percent of the cost of insured health services under the Canada Health Act by 2005/06, with an escalator thereafter). The move to stable and long-term funding increases should include the establishment of homecare and drug programs, with suitable mechanisms for accountability negotiated with the provinces for this new spending, given that health is under their jurisdiction (Mr. Romanow recommended the establishment of a Health Council of Canada in this regard).
The Health of Our World
On three separate occasions in 2002 the Catholic Bishops of Canada publicly encouraged the federal government to adopt the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change. In a June 2002 letter to the Honourable David Anderson, Minister of the Environment, we wrote: “The challenges of climate change are deeply moral as well as spiritual… Signing the Kyoto Protocol is both a necessary responsibility and a symbol of Canada’s commitment to the health of the world.” Indeed, as Canada has subsequently made its support of Kyoto clear, a responsible federal budget should reflect the spending priorities necessary in order for an economic transition strategy to become reality.
The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives has suggested that the current fiscal year’s projected budget surplus of $8 billion be rolled over into an innovative Kyoto Investment and Transition Fund. A broad mix of policy measures are available, and might include, for example, shifting tax subsidies now provided for conventional energy production to energy-efficient tax credits, imposing carbon taxes, the subsidization of fuel-efficient vehicles, and the promotion of inner-city and mass-commuter transit. The goal would be to encourage health, social and indeed economic benefits as we reduce our emissions of greenhouse gases. It is even conceivable that a reduction of our dependency on the economy of oil could lessen tensions in conflictive areas such as the Middle East. For these reasons we will also continue to encourage Canadians to examine their personal and communal lifestyles in order to commit to reductions in our own use of fossil fuels and to embrace a more sustainable environmental future.
Poverty in Canada
Canadians cannot help but be encouraged that the number of poor children has dropped from one in five to one in six for the first time since 1989. Yet more resolve is urgently needed, since child poverty has actually increased since that year when Parliament unanimously agreed to end this scourge by 2000.
Campaign 2000 and its 85 member organizations have called for a three-pronged anti-poverty strategy consisting, for example, of increased income supports through a comprehensive child benefit, the creation of new affordable housing units, and a national strategy of early childhood education and care. A consolidated Canada Child Tax Benefit of up to $4,200 per child to families is required (independent of their source of income and not “clawed-back” by provincial governments). Additionally, an immediate $1 billion for high-quality child care, available to all families, is needed. As well, the creation of 20,000 new affordable housing units and the rehabilitation of 10,000 affordable
units would require a funding commitment of at least $1 billion per year over the next five years.
As the Prime Minister stated in his reply to the Speech from the Throne in October 2002: “We must put Canada’s families and children first…in the next budget, to put in place a long term investment plan to enable Canada to turn the corner on child poverty and break the cycle of poverty and dependency for Canadian families.” This three-pronged strategy is indeed a way to do so.
The Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace (CCODP) has referred to “the systematic under-funding of Canada’s international aid programs over the last years.” While the Canadian bishops have consistently encouraged the federal government to increase overseas development assistance, we have been repeatedly disheartened by Canada’s dismal record. This past summer witnessed a renewed commitment by the Prime Minister to increase development assistance spending by eight percent over the next several years. The upcoming budget must, at the least, keep this promise, and deliver on Canada’s stated commitment to meet the United Nations Millennium Development Goals.
But we are also concerned that Canada must renew its commitment to the quality (as well as the quantity) of development assistance programs. We, like many thousands of other Canadian donors and participants, are convinced this can be achieved through renewed support for the responsive programming of respected NGOs such as CCODP. Additionally, through multilateral forums and bilateral cancellation schemes, Canada should regain a leadership role at the forefront of debt-relief efforts for the poorest countries, especially in sub-Saharan Africa. Not only should this work receive new impetus, but Canadian financial commitments to the multilateral Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria should be much enhanced.
Mr. Manley, as you prepare your first budget, we realize that the political pressures from a range of areas must be enormous and pressing. When the competing voices reach a crescendo, we ask that you also remember the smallest voices of our neighbours in Canada and overseas, or as the Book of Proverbs states, “those to whom it is due”.
We wish you every blessing in your discernment and eventual preparation of this important document.
Most Reverend Jean Gagnon
Bishop of Gaspé
Episcopal Commission for Social Affairs
Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops