The News Rundown
- It was announced this week that Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland will table a fiscal update on December 14th. This update will update Canadians on the country’s current balances without putting forward a new budget.
- But before that happens we need to know just where the government spent $600b during the pandemic.
- The fiscal year ended March 31 and the “public accounts” and other documents showing how federal funds have been spent have not been made available.
- Before the MPs take their Christmas break the government wants to pass further pandemic measures worth $7b that will have to pass a confidence vote in the house.
- This week much of the media has been focused on the passage of the conversion therapy ban that was passed in the last Parliament and died in the senate. The Conservatives stepped up showing that the Conservative Party is not the party of old and it is not them who will be the stumbling block to make this Parliament work by motioning to fast track the Bill allowing it to skip the House.
- While most of the media coverage has focused on that passage this week, the missing $600b in accounting has to be addressed.
- The April budget estimated the budget deficit for 2020-21 would be $354.2-billion – up from $39.4-billon the previous year. For context, the projected deficit was nearly the same size as the $362.9-billion in total federal spending the previous year. The budget had said total spending for 2020-21 would be $634.9-billion.
- The fiscal update and budget looks forward in time meaning that while we will get updated in just under two weeks on the government finances, we won’t have an eye to what happened in the last fiscal year.
- Former Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page says that the government should release this because having data from last year can help inform future requests going forward and most importantly, “it’s all information that can be used to shape the debate and hold the government to account.”
- The government also wants $8.7b in new spending in the current fiscal year but with a twist… Normally spending has to be reviewed by the relevant standing committees but this time it will be reviewed by the “committee of the whole” which means all MPs on the floor act as a temporary committee.
- To the untrained this might seem like more eyes, but this process does not involve calling policy experts or department officials like the standard standing committees do.
- With the current timing there will only be days to ask questions once the accounts are tabled and the house will not return until January 31, 2022.
- With the biggest debt and deficit in Canadian history, the taxpayers, let alone MPs deserve to know what is going on.
- The receipts that Canadians have from our groceries, Christmas supplies, gas, and home heating tell a story.
- That is, if you own a home because home prices have also risen by 70% or about $300,000 since Justin Trudeau became Prime Minister.
- 2015 saw a call for affordable housing in the cities by the Liberals and no one saw the pandemic but $600b could build so many houses.
- Canada would need to build 1.8 million houses to reach the G7 average of 471 dwellings per thousand residents.
- The housing report came from Ryerson University and while it showcases the huge increase in housing prices it also confirms what everyone has felt: modest growth in personal income.
- We need to really ask what the true priorities of the government are and yes, making priorities is difficult but when $600b can’t be accounted for and people can’t afford houses, it begins to tell a story about our economy that we’re only beginning to realize the impact of.
- With $600b in accounting missing, rising inflation, rising prices, and rising house prices we are beginning to realize the true impact of one of Trudeau’s famous quips: “the budget will balance itself.”
- One of the biggest promises of the first 5 years of Trudeau's government was to end all of the boil water advisories that have been plaguing First Nations communities for years. To their credit, they have reduced the number sharply, but there are still dozens of communities still unable to use their own water, and the government has admitted that they would not meet their target. Many of the problems have arisen because of a lack of attention and money set aside for the maintenance and operation of the new treatment plants that have been built.
- Yves Giroux, the Parliamentary Budget Officer, has said that the federal government is short a total of $138 million a year to help First Nations maintain the water systems that have been built to eradicate the boil water advisories.
- The Liberals have not set a new target since reporting that they would not meet their goals, but pledged more funding to build and upgrade water treatment plants. The PBO found those plans have enough funding to build the new plants, but the government hasn’t set aside enough money to operate them. The PBO looked at historical and planned spending to find the gap of $138m/year.
- The problem with this is that if these concerns are not addressed swiftly, badly maintained water treatment plants will only become future problems, as they deteriorate quicker and drive up overall costs sharply. Even new plants can swiftly cause problems if they are not properly taken care of.
- The auditor general has also highlighted that the government’s commitment did not cover homes on about a third of homes on reserves with private wells or cisterns or simply no access to running water.
- Crown Indigenous Relations Minister Marc Miller points out that many of the Indigenous communities where water advisories are in place are small and remote communities, and Miller said it would be an ongoing challenge to keep those facilities fully staffed, because well-trained water technicians were going to be in demand everywhere.
- Miller highlighted a training program in Manitoba that has been very successful in recruiting and training Indigenous people to work on water treatment. He said they hoped they could keep using programs to train more operators, but it would be an ongoing issue.
- Miller said: “We just have to have more saturation of those options and make sure that local folks are trained up to be the pride of their community and operate something that’s such an essential asset. Absolutely, it will be a challenge ongoing but it’s something we’re willing to meet.”
- Reconciliation remains high on the Liberals’ agenda, but as they enter their third mandate they do so facing more scrutiny around what progress has been achieved compared to what’s been announced.
- NDP critic MP Lori Idlout said the Liberals said the right things, but failed to deliver: “In a country as rich as Canada, it is unacceptable that so many Indigenous communities are still living under boil water advisories...[M]any people have never known what it’s like to have safe, clean drinking water straight from the tap. The Trudeau government has failed to keep their promise to lift all long-term boil water advisories in Canada by the end of March this year. Indigenous people can’t wait any longer.”
- The importance of clean drinking water as a basic human right in Canada cannot be overstated. Even in the cities, poor maintenance and testing of water can lead to boil water advisories. Just this past weekend, the City of Montreal had issued a boil water advisory for several West Island communities following a failed water quality test. The advisory only lasted for a day.
- Imagine if it were longer than that, though. Now imagine if it were 5 years. People in Montreal would be up in arms over the issue, and Montreal's Liberal MPs would be hard pressed to answer for their failure.
- This is not even mentioning the many communities in BC that have had to deal with weeks long boil water advisories due to the massive floods that devastated the province.
- In the cities, we expect basic amenities to be available to us, such as free glasses of water at restaurants, public drinking fountains at schools, the ability to refill your water bottle at the gym while you work out. It is the reality that many communities in Canada do not have access to that basic right.
- Ending boil water advisories in Canada should be a bi-partisan issue, and all parties should be standing up for Canadians' access to this basic human right. The media should be focusing more on this issue that frequently takes a backseat to all the other comings and goings of government.
- So while the House of Commons pats itself of the back for coming to unanimous agreement on a ban of conversion therapy, maybe media pressure could create unanimous support for people who have been waiting, sometimes decades, for these issues to be solved. Universal access to clean drinking water would be a real step towards reconciliation.
- This week Albertans got some unprecedented economic news. Alberta’s oil output has hit record levels and we broke the highest year to date production record going back to 2010 (85% higher to be precise), last time there was an economic boom.
- This means that while the economy grows in new sectors like tech, hydrogen, and film, our traditional energy industry is thriving as best as it can.
- What’s more, oil production going forward to 2025 is forecast to be about 17% higher than it is today and if we can maintain modest prices (outside of today’s spike), this will do our province well.
- This has also led to a substantial decrease in the provincial deficit.
- The deficit dropped $12.4b to $5.8b for 2021-2022.
- Deficits going forward are forecast to be $3.3b and 2.3b maintaining the crude forecast price of about $60US per barrel.
- Economic GDP is expected to grow by 6.1% this year compared to the forecast 4.8%. This is largely due to the restrictions easing as the pandemic winds down and becomes more endemic.
- The plan was always to balance the budget in the UCPs first term by bringing spending in line with other provinces but of course then COVID hit.
- If the pandemic were to disappear now and the province accelerated its track, the idea of a balanced budget by 2023 isn’t hard to imagine.
- The recurring theme in most Alberta stories is that people are shocked when the UCP carries through on an election promise. Their biggest promises were to get the economy back on track and eliminate the deficit.
- Barring the pandemic and policies from the federal government that target the natural resources sector, Alberta would be well on its way and enjoying prosperity as we saw from 2008-2013.
- One move that raised eyebrows when the UCP came to office was their cut of corporate taxes. Lowering the rate from 12% down to 8% by the start of 2021.
- While overall tax revenues are still down and won’t return to pre-cut levels until 2023-24, despite the tax cuts, corporate tax revenues are slated to increase by 19% even with tax cuts.
- Finance Minister Travis Toews highlights that these cuts boost investment and raise revenues broadly which the fiscal update confirms.
- While the NDP disagrees with the UCPs economic plan in many ways, the NDP Finance Critic highlighted that tax revenues from personal income tax are slated to rise by $1.4b.
- With an inflation crisis running nationally and wage growth being flat, there is an argument to be made that individuals should pay less.
- This could be done in any number of ways including tweaking the personal income tax scale to be more progressive (which the NDP would prefer), lowering taxes but adding a sales tax, reinstating a flat rate income tax, or once the budget is balanced, take a page out of Ralph Klein’s and Alaska’s playbook and offer prosperity dividends.
- The modern economy when shut down operates largely on psychology in that if the general collective mood of an industry or country as a whole is good, that sector or economy will do well.
- This falls apart when there are limitations put in place such as restrictive policies or the government of the day raises questions about the investment environment as happened under the NDP and is happening under Justin Trudeau.
- The reason we’re talking about these economic numbers is that they tell two stories: first, the UCP’s goal to increase investment and stimulate the economy through free-market principles worked and no one should be surprised they did this as it was an election promise.
- Second, if not for the pandemic and the Trudeau administration’s policies, Alberta would be in a similar place to where we were in 2009 - a major economic boom.
- Alberta is doing well now, leading the country in terms of growth, but the economy could be doing better with a few small changes.
- Listen up everybody, for the state funded broadcaster CBC is here to tell you what words you should and shouldn't use! In a news article titled "Words and phrases you may want to think twice about using", that serves as an opinion article without "opinion" attached to it, there is a handy early 2000s era word cloud listing all the supposedly repugnant and racist phrases in bold, colourful letters.
- CBC Ottawa says they compiled a small list of words, submitted by readers and CBC journalists who are Black, Indigenous and people of colour, and then ran some of the words by anti-racism and language experts, who said some of these phrases can be hurtful to various groups of people for their historical and cultural context.
- Some of the words in question? First world problems, spirit animal, blind spot, and spooky.
- The article says that many commonly used words and phrases “can be hurtful to various groups of people,” and should therefore be removed “from your daily lingo.”
- Top of the list: anything that includes the root word “black.” According to the CBC’s “readers and some of our journalists who are Black, Indigenous and people of colour,” words like “blackmail” and phrases like “black sheep” should be placed on the proverbial blacklist — except we can’t use that term, either.
- The article pointed out the tech industry is now moving away from using whitelist and blacklist, replacing it with terms like block-list or deny-list. Computer code labels like 'master' and 'slave' are also being re-examined. "If we use the words 'allow-list' [instead of whitelist] or deny-list ... it enhances the true understanding of that word," she said.
- Never mind that the origins of these words don’t have anything to do with Black people. “ Blackmail ,” for example, originated in 16th-century Scotland, when those living on the border with England were often forced to pay money in order to avoid being raided and pillaged. Legitimate rent was paid in silver, also referred to as “white rent” or “white money,” whereas the bribes were often paid in goods or services, hence the opposite term “black rent.”
- Likewise, the phrase “ black sheep ” simply refers to the less-common sheep with black wool, which stick out in a herd of white ones. It has nothing to do with Black people and no one who uses it in common parlance is intending to disparage those with darker skin. But none of that matters. According to professional anti-racism trainer Joseph Smith, black is more than just a shade; it “connotes evil, distrust, lack of intelligence, ignorance, a lack of beauty — the absence of white.” By making those connections, it could be argued that the anti-racism lobby is doing more to roll back all the progress that’s been made than actual racists are. But in a society guided by critical race theory, we’re all racists, even if we don’t know it.
- Ai Taniguchi, a linguist and an associate language studies professor with University of Toronto Mississauga, says that "Being an English speaker doesn't entail that you necessarily know the racist etymology automatically. The fact that you said it, oblivious to the etymology, doesn't automatically make you a bad person. As language users, we have the social responsibility to monitor the impact our utterances have on others, especially when it involves a marginalized group."
- Don't worry, it's not just us that are racists. So is the rest of the universe, apparently. Cornell University, a top flight Ivy League university is offering a course called, "black holes: race and the cosmos". The course description asks: “Surely there can be no connection between the cosmos and the idea of racial blackness. Can there? Contemporary Black studies theorists, artists, fiction writers implicitly and explicitly posit just such a connection.”
- The universe doesn’t care about the history of race relations on the tiny blue planet we call Earth. The gravity of a black hole is so strong that not even light can escape it. Thus, unless matter is actively falling into it, a black hole appears completely black. To suggest the term has anything to do with the slave trade or systemic racism is, well, right up there among the dumbest things I’ve ever heard.
- Speaking of dumb, that’s another word that’s on the CBC’s censorship list, as is “lame.” Even the journalist acknowledges the terms are used to describe “lack of intelligence” and “something that’s boring or unexciting,” respectively. But it tries so very hard to push that using those words furthers an ableist agenda.
- Even terms that were once staples of the left-wing lexicon are now lingua non grata. Like “first-world problem,” a phrase commonly used on the left to imply that none of our problems really matter because there are people starving in Africa and being slaughtered in the Middle East. It’s “classist,” so it has to go. So does “spirit animal,” something only ever comes out of the mouths, and which was common among progressives just a few years ago. Turns out it’s cultural appropriation, so it’s out, too.
- As is anything else that could refer to Indigenous cultures. Like “lowest on the totem pole.” That’s “culturally appropriating the totem pole,” you see. Or “savage,” a word that was used to describe the Indigenous peoples of the Americas by European settlers. Even the word “tribe” is on the list, even though it’s part of the official names of many Indigenous bands, and was used to describe the Twelve Tribes of Israel long before Christopher Columbus set foot in the Americas.
- “Ghetto,” which was originally used to describe the Jewish quarter in 16th-century Venice and later to denote areas where Jews were forced to live in Nazi-occupied Europe. Nowadays, terms like “ghetto” and “inner city” are commonly associated with impoverished Black neighbourhoods in the United States, which is apparently racist, even though such neighbourhoods exist, and are often described as “ghettos” by those who live in them.
- At the end of the day, words matter. But more than that, context matters. That's why we are here, to give you the context that CBC and others will not.
Word of the Week
Etymology - the study of the origin of words and the way in which their meanings have changed throughout history
Quote of the Week
"Being an English speaker doesn't entail that you necessarily know the racist etymology automatically. The fact that you said it, oblivious to the etymology, doesn't automatically make you a bad person. As language users, we have the social responsibility to monitor the impact our utterances have on others, especially when it involves a marginalized group." - Ai Taniguchi, a linguist and an associate language studies professor with University of Toronto Mississauga
How to Find Us
Episode Title: The Context of Words
Teaser: Trudeau has yet to account for $600b in spending, more needs to be done to end boil water advisories, and Alberta’s deficit drops much faster than expected. Also, the CBC tells us words we shouldn’t use, while we give context on the history of those words.
Recorded Date: December 3, 2021
Release Date: December 5, 2021
Edit Notes: None
Podcast Summary Notes