The government’s pre-budget consultations are on the wrong track. The government is using a carefully manufactured set of questions that support a predetermined agenda that focuses on deficits, a leaner public sector and further giveaways to foreign resource companies. The consultation’s budget questions do not focus on protecting and creating jobs in the province to build an economy for the future.
Unemployment continues to grow in the province with rates that are double the national average, and by the government’s own figures this rate is projected to reach almost 20 per cent in the coming years. Instead of protecting jobs, by their own admission the government’s cuts have already contributed to the startling unemployment projections. This is comparable to the job losses after the cod fishery collapse, and risks creating a wave of outmigration among young workers and families. Such an exodus would worsen the population imbalance and reduce the number of workers available to support our aging population. We cannot afford to watch young people leave or struggle to stay.
The province urgently needs a plan for protecting and creating good jobs. It needs to stop focusing on the priorities of the wealthy and big business and start listening to the working and unemployed folks, as well as independent small businesses.
First and foremost, the government should avoid making rash spending cuts and layoffs in a shortsighted attempt to accelerate balancing of the budget. The budget will come into balance through economic recovery projected over coming years, and through growth in revenues. Protecting the jobs that exist is essential to ensure there is a foundation for economic activity and growth.
Second, the economy is still too unfair — skewed in favour of the wealthy and large corporations. Taxes on the rich are not even back to where they were before the ill-advised cuts of 2007. More income needs to be put into the hands of working folks, who will spend on local goods and services that create jobs and keep small businesses alive.
Third, the government can add new jobs by establishing the conditions required for economic and employment growth, such as:
• Investing in labour market strategies and human capital — a workforce with suitable training and education required to navigate the long-term transition from resource extraction-and-export to the new economy.
• Building a diversified economy with greater benefits locally, giving preference to local companies in tendering and grants.
• Creating good, green jobs and reducing costs for families and businesses through investing more in energy efficiency for homes and other buildings, expanding transit, installing electric vehicle charging stations, building pedestrian and cycling infrastructure.
• Keeping the workforce strong by attracting and retaining young and working-age people, through restoring education funding, reducing tuition and investing in programs connecting students with employment opportunities.
• Ensuring the extraction of natural resources maximizes local jobs and is accompanied by value-added jobs.
In the short term the government can take concrete steps toward a fairer economy by raising the minimum wage with an ultimate target of a living wage; working toward a guaranteed annual income, starting by increasing the income threshold for low-income people to be exempt from income taxes; adequately funding social assistance programs; and working to reduce gender gaps and include vulnerable groups.
The government’s Way Forward document guiding the budget consultation does not adequately address the challenges of unemployment or fairness and threatens to do more harm than good to our economy.
If the government were to genuinely participate in open and transparent consultations with the people of this province, it would hear what really matters — employment, decent incomes, good services, fairness and hope for the future. We have resources, great promise and even greater people; the government can embrace and invest in these opportunities to build a better future for all.
Alyse Stuart, chair
Common Front NL