The 2017 federal budget was highly anticipated, with many Canadians hoping that it would make good on the promises that remained unfulfilled from the Liberal government’s campaign platform, including funding for Indigenous women and plans for marijuana legalization.
On March 22, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that the budget would be the first to consider Canadian finances through a gender-based prism, by evaluating the gender wage gap, the over-representation of women in lower-paid occupations, and the other ways that financial planning decisions may impact women’s well-being.
Conservatives watched to see whether the planned deficit under Trudeau would grow in exchange for initiatives that saw little approval from the Tory base.
In the midst of partisan rhetoric, it can be easy to lose sight of one group of constituents: students. The Liberals send mixed messages with their new financial regime, resulting in gains for students in some areas and losses in others. It is therefore unlikely that the 2017 budget will significantly change the socioeconomic situation for students in Canada.
The change that will be most costly for students is a tax increase on several commonly-used goods and services, while a number of tax credits have been scrapped, many of which were particularly beneficial for low-income earners.
The alcohol tax has been increased by seven cents on each bottle of spirits and by one cent per litre of wine.
With respect to transportation, the government has imposed GST/HST on the commonly used ride-sharing service, Uber, and has abolished the public tax credit provided for Metropasses and other monthly pass usage.
These changes, while small, are likely to amount to an increase in costs for tight student budgets.
Furthermore, conflicting perspectives from young people currently involved in politics suggest that the 2017 budget is likely to produce mixed results when it comes to financial security for students.
Echoing the concern that life will not be easier for students following the new budget, Louis Vatrt, a member of the executive of the University of Toronto Campus Conservatives, commented that the budget “makes life more expensive for youth, primarily with the elimination of the public transit tax credit.”
He also noted that the budget continued the trend of deficit spending that the Harper conservatives attempted to end with a balanced budget in 2015, remarking that it “saddles generations with billions of debt which we’re going to have to find a way to pay off.”
Liberals promote what they see as some tangible benefits for students. Alexander Cohen, Vice-President of Communications for the Young Liberals of Canada, noted that the budget “dedicates a plethora of new money to Canada Student Loans and grants.”
He also noted changes with respect to employment insurance (EI), stashold for EI eligibility and makes it easier for EI recipients to retrain.”
What is also encouraging is that those returning to school as mature students will receive an additional $287.2 million in funding to ease their transitions, in addition to new funds earmarked for part-time students and students with children.
Meanwhile, students who are seeking summer jobs or full time employment will be glad to hear that the 2017 budget “invests nearly an additional $400 million in the Youth Employment Strategy,” an initiative that, as Cohen explains, is focused on helping young people develop marketable skills and creating green jobs.
Therefore, while it appears that some of the financial decisions made by the Liberals will put a strain on student budgets, others may actually alleviate current financial concerns.
What this may result in is an equalizing effect between the budget’s highs and lows — which means those who had their sights set on significant improvements will likely be disappointed.
In this vein, some progressives who have been hoping for “real change” as promised throughout the Liberal election campaign do not feel that the increased support for students and other vulnerable groups has been sufficient.
Allan Cocunato, a self-identified progressive who supported Trudeau in the 2015 election in the hopes of departing from Conservative policies, said he would have “liked to see more money earmarked for [missing and murdered] indigenous women and for immediate intervention with the homeless and impoverished people.”
In Cocunato’s opinion, the budget failed to accomplish many of the initiatives proposed during the election.
Ultimately, the 2017 federal budget can pride itself on one thing: it managed to unite progressives and conservatives in a rare moment of agreement.
Unfortunately, the agreement was rooted in disapproval, albeit for different causes. While the Tories believe that the budget is a prime example of reckless spending, progressives do not see it as having gone far enough to rectify the social challenges Canadians are facing.
The budget has strayed little from the course taken by the Harper Conservatives, with few policies likely to have remarkable effects on students’ lives.
The tax increases are relatively small and have been distributed to other areas that are likely to benefit the same individuals who will be footing the hikes.
The lack of a novel direction despite an increasing deficit is also noteworthy in itself for a government elected on a platform of “real change.” Whether that change manifests itself in other policy changes or relegates itself to the Liberals’ heap of broken campaign promises remains to be seen.
With policy changes supposedly in store, including the recently announced legalization of marijuana, it will be interesting to witness the government’s response going forward.
Daryna Kutsyna is a fourth-year student at Trinity College studying International Relations and History.