Roundtable Notes: Pre-budget Roundtable Consultation with the Standing Committee on Finance
November 3, 1997
Notes for Pre-budget Roundtable Consultation
with the Standing Committee on Finance
The Canadian Council on Social Development
November 3, 1997, 10:30 am
Presented by David P. Ross,
Executive Director, CCSD
Participants in this round have been asked to consider "appropriate new strategic investments", at a time when some are saying there is no need for public investments because the economy is booming. However, Finance Minister Martin has already responded to this objection through the apt use of his metaphor "that a rising economic tide does not lift all boats".
The CCSD also finds imagery useful, and this is that the engine of economic growth is under full steam, powered largely by private sector forces. But while the train has left the station, too many people are left standing on the platform sadly waving good-bye. They haven't been able to secure seats--not even standing room--in the well-appointed coaches. So who is left on the platform?
- the long-term unemployed,
- involuntary part-time and temporary workers,
- young entrant workers with huge student debts,
- laid-off older workers,
- mothers on welfare with their children,
- persons with disabilities,
- first nations peoples,
- the homeless.
Unfortunately, the private sector train engineers are not much concerned with those left off the train. Only public investments will get them aboard. The CCSD believes the 1998 Budget must clearly spell out investments that will address two goals:
- First: The enhanced well-being of all children.
- Second: Expanded job opportunities.
Enhancing the well-being of all children
It is pointless to talk about the benefits of global competition, the knowledge economy, and the information highway if we don't provide a sustainable social platform for our economy. Much of this platform rests on the health of our children. By providing children with safe communities and nurturing family environments, we improve the likelihood that this platform will be in place, and our future prosperity secure.
Governments are expressing deep concerns about education, but support seems mostly targeted to children aged six and over. While formal education may begin at age 6, learning begins at birth, and we know that children deprived in their early years perform less well, later on in school and in life. This means we must get the environment right for all children, in their early years. How? Through:
- affordable and high quality child care;
- public kindergarten programs;
- greatly expanded resources for child protection services;
- a much enhanced National Child Benefit;
- improved access to a full range of drug, medical and dental services;
- more stable and better paying jobs;
- expanded leave provisions for working parents;
- national measures to track the progress of our childrens' well-being.
Investing in public services
The CCSD is quite aware that strategic public investments cannot solve all social problems. But that these investments remain the most important instrument for expressing and protecting the national collective will. Canadians need strong public investments that are made for the social good and largely without regard to family income level. The private sector is not motivated to make investments for the social good, but for private profit. We don't expect it to invest in needed areas such as income security programs; universal education and health care; subsidized child and elder care; and freely accessible cultural and recreational facilities. Public investments also provide good quality jobs.
Increase support for the voluntary sector
Increasing the support for the voluntary sector is another important investment we will look for in this Budget. The Finance Minister himself has expressed the need in a recent speech, and I quote: "..the volunteer sector is poised to have a growing impact on social and economic policy because it offers the greatest hope for maintaining social programs and job creation in an era of financial restraint".
But without new public investments there is faint hope this "growing impact" will occur. A national survey shows that while most registered charities have experienced an increased demand for their services, only a third have mustered the resources to hire new staff. And ninety per cent said no, when asked if they would be hiring staff in the near future.
In Metro Toronto, a survey last year of 382 human service agencies pictured them trying to meet rapidly rising demands even though one-third had just laid off workers; 33 agencies had been closed; and the remainder had suffered revenue cuts averaging 4 per cent. Obviously, the growing demands of many people in need will go unmet.
How can governments invest in the voluntary sector while at the same time creating good jobs and expanding needed social services?
- they can create permanent funds that community councils would distribute to community agencies,
- they can expand wage subsidy and intern programs allowing voluntary organizations to hire additional staff, and,
- they can enhance tax credits for charitable giving.
In conclusion,we seem to be approaching the debate on defining strategic public investments indirectly, by asking Canadians how they would distribute the fiscal dividend. They are being asked to divide the pie into three pieces --public spending, tax reduction and debt elimination--as if there are no connections between the slices. In reality, every public investment affects all three, and vice versa. The correct approach is to ask what is our ultimate public investment strategy? Then consider how it is to be financed. That is how we should approach the fiscal dividend.
As part of this investment strategy, the Canadian Council on Social Development has proposed two important goals:
- enhancing the well-being of all our children, and;
- expanding job opportunities.
These are not narrow goals. They will help to ensure that Canada remains the best country in the world in which to live, for all of our citizens.