Child care and other priorities for Bill Morneau’s first budget

On March 22, when Bill Morneau rises in the House of Commons to deliver his first budget as the federal finance minister, I will be looking for three visionary economic investments.

No, I won’t be looking for the much-touted infrastructure program. I know it’s coming, and it is good that we stand to benefit tangibly in Greater Vancouver for transit and perhaps housing.

What I’ll be wondering about are the government’s commitments to three pillars of our future economy: a formidable national child-care program, a clear sign of an impending genuine partnership with our First Nations and a sophisticated step toward a knowledge/green economy.

It was heartening to hear
Justin Trudeau pledge last week to put a woman on a bank note in 2018. By that date, too, though, he needs to be putting bank notes into women for this basic need for their children.

It has been heartening to also hear the prime minister acknowledge his privilege, accept the need for reconciliation and fulfil a promise to properly investigate the plight of missing and murdered aboriginal women. But a two-track approach is needed to pursue the logic of true partnership and the reworking of the country’s power dynamic, even if this tall order is not for the faint of political heart.

And it has been heartening to hear our national leader’s authentic commitment to the planet doesn’t turn the tap off the resource-based economy that will long be with us. That being said, the first budget is a once-in-a-mandate opportunity with the country’s support to place the chips on a different part of the table – on technology, on cleaner industrial initiatives and on our intellectual and cultural improvement.

In short, this is game time. But I fear this is, in hockey parlance, a chance to rag the puck whose temptation the government can’t resist.

The argument on child care is clear. There is no greater emancipation of half our population into greater agency and the full population into an equitable pursuit of ambition.

Tepid policy attempts failed our country when it was arguably easier to initiate a program that would by now be positioning Canada as a productive and progressive country, rather than one in which far too many families, and particularly mothers, struggle to find acceptable-quality workday care for their children.

The Liberals have temporary leverage as a popular government to push provinces into a nationally consistent plan that would more quickly than anything enable economic growth, develop a healthier country and reduce impediments for full workplace participation.

I suspect the government will disappoint. Liberal campaign commitments were to a framework, not a plan. We don’t need more mealy-mouthed pledges to federal-provincial discussions that will punt the issue for years to come.

The courts have made clear that a new era of federal-
provincial-First Nations mutual consent is necessary, and our most significant socio-economic pain points intersect here, so Trudeau again has an opening to engender trust by signalling there will be sizable financial consequences of his substantial personal commitment.

Again, though, this is an undertaking at a time of a priority pile with limited bandwidth, and I suspect the aboriginal women’s inquiry provides a plausible political respite from the heavy lifting that faces the Liberal government if it is to be true to its word. Make no mistake, though, as the inquiry plays out on the national stage, this is a large issue waiting in the wings.

As for the strategic economic investment in knowledge and green, well, we shouldn’t fasten our seatbelts. The recent failure to reach a national carbon-pricing scheme suggests we will legalize marijuana sooner than reach a different kind of green plan.

What would be wise, though, are clearer signs on culture, on clean-tech support and on what Trudeau has referred to as our “resourcefulness.” We should presume that is a compliment of how we work with resources, not how we work without the resources we need.

Kirk LaPointe is Business in Vancouver’s vice-president of audience and business development.