Globe and Mail Update
Monday, December 10 Online Edition, Posted at 7:59 PM EST
Health care and labour organizations reacted with concern to Finance Minister Paul Martin's budget Monday, which saw only modest enhancements in existing programs but no dramatic initiatives.
In the health-care sector, Sharon Sholzberg-Gray, president of the Canadian Healthcare Association told globeandmail.com, said the government needs to do more.
"There is still unfinished business regarding health," she said.
"We see the government boost spending for security but health care is still the number one concern for Canadians."
Mr. Martin provided $95-million over four years in new funding for the Canadian Institute for Health Information, which gathers health statistics, and $75-million annually for the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. Those are relatively small amounts in a $72-billion annual system.
There's no new money for the Canada Health and Social Transfer, which the provinces use to pay for health, higher education and social assistance. Provinces have been clamouring for an increase in the CHST and warning of drastic repercussions if there were none.
The strongest assertion Mr. Martin could make for health-care delivery — which polls highlight as a top Canadian concern — is that last year's $23-billion deal with the provinces will be maintained.
That deal is spread over five years and the provinces say it merely restores federal funding to the level of 1992-93, before the spending cuts that helped clear the federal deficit were undertaken. They maintain it fails to account for cost escalation since 1993.
Ms. Sholzberg-Gray said she was pleased to see money going toward health research and aboriginal health.
Canadian Nurses Association president Ginette Lemire Rodger expressed her disappointment with the budget.
"We saw nothing in here for the health-care system," Ms. Rodger told globeandmail.com. "The government has not been listening to the people."
While increases in federal funding for research is good, Ms. Rodger said there is no money in the budget to address the future viability of the health-care system including recruiting and retaining nurses.
Paul Leduc-Browne, senior researcher at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, said the budget failed to adequately address social issues that have a large impact on society and the economy.
Monday's budget contained very little for affordable housing, health care and nothing for child care, except for the aboriginal community, Mr. Leduc-Browne told globeandmail.com.
"If they're not being addressed now [social issues] then they have to deal with them later," he said.
"We said the federal government should spend more," he added, refering to the alternative budget he co-authored and released last week.
In the alternative budget, Mr. Leduc-Browne and his co-authors called on the federal budget to kick in $10-billion in new spending for each of the next two fiscal years — with the money going to combat problems such as child poverty and rising unemployment — without running a deficit.
Ken Georgetti, president of the Canadian Labour Congress, said Mr. Martin's budget has given nothing for unemployed people in Canada.
"The budget is supposed to give hope to people," Mr. Georgetti told globeandmail.com.
The CLC wanted to see some of the money in the Employement Insurance fund spent to help Canadians and stimulate the economy, he added.
"This budget does not take on the most important issues right now for real people: unemployment, fear of unemployment and anxieties about our standard of living and quality of life. Canadian working families are craving economic security. This budget does not deliver on that for them," Mr. Georgetti said in a press release.
Mr. Georgetti praised some of the budget's border security measures saying they will help keep trade moving across the border.
He also commended the government for increasing international development aid and for showing a renewed interest in apprenticeship programs but added the funding is still inadequate.
The Canadian Catholic Organization for development and peace also expressed criticism for the amount dedicated to humanitarian aid in the budget calling it "inadequate" and "disappoiting".
"Mr. Martin's budget falls so far short of our expectations that it cannot, by any stretch, be qualified as a worthy example of an improvement in foreign aid," the organization's president Susan McNamara Scott said in a press release.
In real terms, Canada's international aid budget has been cut by 37 per cent since the beginning of the 1990s. How can Canada set an example by allotting only $400-million over three years to foreign aid while in the same budget setting aside $1.6-billion creating a false sense of security, the organization asked.
With a report from Canadian Press