Rethinking the priorities of the Federal budget

Last week the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives released its 19th Alternative Federal Budget In it, the CCPA lays out a different set of priorities for the Canadian government, a set of priorities that are much more in line with creating a healthy, happy and prosperous Canada for the present and in the future.

The current Federal government – with its emphasis on extracting resources in spite of environmental damage, reducing taxes and cutting programs with little evidence of substantive benefit for most Canadians, and denying free speech in order to consolidate their power – is throwing away Canada’s future for the sake of (limited) short term gain. Policy directed at exploitation of our resources, whether human or natural, are not sustainable. They turn a blind eye to the most serious problems Canada faces: the destruction of the environment and growing poverty and income equality.

If you look at what the Alternative Federal Budget proposes to do, it is impressive. And it speaks to issues that will impact Canadian society both directly and indirectly in broad and substantial ways. When we think about issues like health and health care spending – issues which are often identified as important by Canadians – these are significantly impacted by the condition of our environment and, very specifically, by poverty and inequality.

Indeed the link between health, poverty and inequality is impossible to deny, and becomes more impossible by the day. Social epidemiologist Richard Wilkinson’s book, The Spirit Level, has gone a long way to bringing some of this evidence to light.

But the Manitoba Centre for Health Policy, a research unit in the University of Manitoba’s Faculty of Medicine, has also produced a number of reports in recent years making these links as well. In fact, virtually every report the MCHP has delivered in the last few years identifies specific correlations between socioeconomic status and health and health outcomes. These reports [links open to PDF summary reports] – from their recent “2013 RHA Indicator Atlas" to “Who is in our Hospitals…and why?" to “Social Housing and Health in Manitoba: A First Look" and “How are Manitoba’s Children Doing?" – all point socioeconomic status as a significant factor in health, and impact on the health care system and other social programs. If you want to see a full list of their reports including summaries and links to summary and full reports, you can find them on the MCHP’s Deliverables page.

So, given that the fact that so many Canadians are struggling in poverty, that the gap between rich and poor grows every year, and that these issues impact directly on the costs of delivering government services, why doesn’t the Federal government address them rather than wilfully ignoring or denying them? I think this is a question the Conservatives need to be asked when they deliver their budget tomorrow. And if they can’t find an answer, at least they have the Alternative Federal Budget to fall back on.