Federal budget fine print: Some details that might have slipped under the radar
The Liberal government’s third full budget was expected to be a relatively lean one with any big moves saved until next year when a federal election is on the line. Here are some highlights that might have slipped under the radar.
Smoking is becoming an ever more costly habit. With 37,000 Canadians dying from a tobacco related illness each year and 115,000 people taking up the practice annually, the Liberal budget will increase the price of a carton of 200 cigarettes by a dollar, along with corresponding increases to excise duties on other tobacco products. But that’s not all. Citing taxation as one of the most effective ways to reduce smoking, the government will also advance the inflationary adjustments for tobacco excise duty to occur annually rather than every five years. Since the first increase will include all inflationary adjustments since 2014 — that means prices will jump six per cent on budget night or $1.29. The bottom line? The price of a carton of cigarettes just went up $2.29.
A HOT MARKET
The budget did little to address concerns about overheated housing markets. This isn’t surprising, given the range of housing market interventions unveiled over the past two years in Ontario and British Columbia and the tougher mortgage qualification rules that took effect in January. Those moves were mainly aimed at curbing demand. With 30 per cent of Canadians relying on rental housing and vacancy rates in Toronto and Vancouver below 1 per cent, Tuesday’s budget turned the focus to supply. Funding for the CMHC’s Rental Construction Financing Initiative, which offers low cost loans to support the construction of rental housing, was increased to $3.75 billion from $2.5 billion over three years. This is expected to spur construction of 14,000 new housing units across Canada. Whether that will be enough to ease shortages and temper soaring rents in red-hot Vancouver and Toronto, remains to be seen.
Also referenced in the budget is the federal government’s carbon-pricing system, to be imposed on any province and territory that fails to bring in an equivalent system before the end of the year. Environment Canada and the Canada Revenue Agency have been promised a total of $109 million over the next five years to help enforce that pledge.
The budget includes an effort to improve the way political leaders engage in televised debates during election campaigns, earmarking $6 million over two years to support a new process. Leaders’ debates have been run in the past by a consortium of broadcasters, but in recent years the process has become inconsistent and controversial, with some leaders being excluded and others opting not to take part. The budget says the government will offer proposals for debate formats over the coming months and may bring in legislation.
The budget devotes $100 million over five years toward extending Internet access to Canadians in the most remote locations. The funds will go to the Strategic Innovation Fund, with special emphasis placed on projects related to next generation rural broadband and LEO satellites. The latter technology provides internet access across challenging landscapes at much lower costs than fibre optic technology. And “Canada is uniquely placed with space satellite industry leaders to build and operate LEO satellite technologies,” the budget states, creating jobs and market opportunities around the world.
Prison farms at Joyceville and Collins Bay, Ont., which were closed down by the previous Conservative government, will be re-opened, the budget says. It sets aside $4.3 million over five years to restart the operations. The farms will be run by a Correctional Service rehabilitation agency.
Citing a lack of research into post-traumatic stress injuries among public safety officers, $20 million will be spent over five years toward establishing a new national research consortium to close the knowledge gap. Run between the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the Canadian Institute for Public Safety Research and Treatment, the body will address the incidence and nature of PTSD in this group.
CANNABIS EXCISE TAX
As the government prepares to legalize marijuana this summer, it will propose an excise duty framework designed to “keep cannabis out of the hands of youth and profits out of the hands of criminals.” Federally licensed producers will be taxed at a dollar per gram of cannabis or 10 per cent of the producer price. The provincial government will take 75 cents of the proceeds with the remaining 25 cents going into federal coffers to a maximum of $100 million. Any surplus over this amount will go back to the provinces.
SAVE THE WHALES
The call of the wild is echoed through the federal budget, with more than $1 billion dedicated to buying up and protecting private land over the next five years, alongside other conservation efforts. The funding reflects the government’s commitment to protect at least 17 per cent of Canadian land and inland waters by 2020, including migratory bird territory. The Liberals have committed $500 million to a nature fund to protect sensitive ecosystems, expand species protection and help Indigenous groups play a role in conservation efforts. An additional $167 million over five years will go toward the research and preservation of endangered whale species, including southern resident orcas, North Atlantic right whales and belugas in the St. Lawrence estuary.
The budget offers a tax break for the costs of keeping a psychiatric service dog. There is already a break for service animals like guide dogs for the blind, but the government is extending the benefit to cover dogs specially trained to help people with conditions like post-traumatic stress. The 15-per-cent, non-refundable tax credit covers costs including food and vet care. It does not, however, apply to a regular pooch that might provide comfort or emotional support. The budget does not include any specific details about how much the measure will cost.
Veterans Affairs will get $24.4 million over five years to help finance repairs and restoration work at the gravesites of military veterans. The department last year reported that about 45,000 such graves needed work, a job that would take 17 years to finish with existing funding. The new money will do the job in five years, the budget says.
The budget includes up to $74.75 million over five years to fight the forest-threatening spruce budworm in Atlantic Canada. The destructive pest is one of the greatest threats to spruce forests. The money will be spent on a 60-40 basis with the federal government taking the larger share and provinces and industry handling the rest.
— With files from The Canadian Press
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