The 2019 budget, released yesterday, identifies a number of areas set to receive fresh funding. For many of our members, increased funding in key areas will be welcome news. There are, however, legislative proposals that are cause for concern.
With more than 200,000 public servants having been impacted by Phoenix, the beleaguered pay system made an appearance in the budget for the second year in a row. The government has committed an additional $523.3 million towards resolving pay issues. There is also $25 million for finding a new pay system to replace Phoenix.
While the influx of cash is welcome, UCTE and PSAC are concerned that the funding isn’t tied to a timeline to resolve Phoenix pay problems. The budget also fails to allocate funds towards the development and launch of a new pay system.
The government has announced a series of policy proposals that could affect our members at Transport Canada. For starters, the government says it plans to work with the provinces and territories to make road safety and transportation requirements more consistent. The government underlined the use of autonomous and connected vehicles as one reason prompting this move. UCTE will reach out to government officials for greater clarity. We want to ensure that this proposal does not involve the federal government unloading its road safety responsibilities onto the provinces and territories.
Additionally, the government wants to launch a pilot project (a regulatory sandbox) that would allow for the sharing of shipping documents by electronic means. Under this proposal, Transport Canada would “work with industry, American counterparts and provincial/territorial jurisdictions to identify options” for sharing documents relating to dangerous goods through electronic means. Again, UCTE is concerned about the implications this may have on Transport Canada inspectors whose duties include reviewing these documents. UCTE will follow-up with government officials to ensure that public safety isn’t undermined by this pilot project.
Canadian Coast Guard & Transport Canada
Both the Canadian Coast Guard and Transport Canada will see additional funding aimed at improving marine environmental response planning. The goal is to “plan for a quicker and more efficient response to marine pollution incidents.” The budget allocates $45 million towards this endeavour (with an additional $1 million coming from existing departmental resources), which is to be divided between the Canadian Coast Guard, Transport Canada and Environment and Climate Chance Canada.
The government has also pledged to invest in local communities; the new infrastructure funding would empower municipalities to tackle local priorities. Eligible categories include regional and local airports, as well as local roads and bridges, short-line rail, public transit and others. The $2.2 billion influx will take the form of a one-time transfer through the federal Gas Tax Fund.
The Canadian Air Transport Security Authority also makes a short appearance in the budget; the government has proposed turning the authority into “an independent, not-for-profit entity”. UCTE has a few concerns with this proposal. Firstly, there’s the question of oversight: CATSA in its current form has been operating without oversight from Transport Canada. If CATSA were to be transformed into an independent, not-for-profit entity, it would seem all the more important to ensure that there is appropriate oversight. Further, we believe Canadians ought to be concerned with giving a non-government entity the power to tax travellers. Passengers currently pay CATSA $7 for a domestic flight and close to $25 for an international trip.
The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, which represents Canadian airport security screeners, has advocated against turning CATSA into a not-for-profit entity. According to the union, CATSA’s issues stem from not being adequately funded. User fees go into government coffers; CATSA only receives a portion of the money it generates.
Finally, our airports could be seeing more tourists through its gates. The budget proposes $58.5 million over two years, starting in 2019-2020 to create a Canadian Experiences Fund. The fund would help businesses and organizations improve or expand tourism-related infrastructure. There’s also $5 million slated for a tourism marketing campaign to encourage Canadians to discover lesser-known areas of our country.
The government has pledged $19 million to fund capital projects in national parks, national marine conservation areas and national historic sites. Meanwhile, a report commissioned by Parks Canada recently revealed that the agency has “deferred up to $9.5 billion in badly needed work – and ought to spend up to $3.3 billion on top of that to cope with the threat of climate change.”
“When reviewed, 24 per cent of the asset[s] were assessed as being in good condition, 36 per cent in fair condition, and 40 per cent in poor or very poor condition,” says the report.
Once again, the government has failed to address the critical situation facing Parks Canada.
The budget also allocates funds towards supporting passenger rail services to remote communities with no alternative means of surface transportation. The government, through this budget, is signalling its commitment to connecting Canada’s Arctic and northern region; it is looking to spend up to $800 million to “build new roads and other vital connections to and between Arctic and northern communities.” The document also underscored the government’s recent funding for the acquisition, repairs and subsidies aimed at restoring rail service to Churchill, Manitoba: over $100 million in the last several months. Rail service and freight shipments finally resumed last November.
Marine Atlantic Inc.
Our members at Marine Atlantic Inc. can also expect to see improvements. The Crown corporation, which operates ferries between Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador, will receive financial support to help it modernize its fleet through the procurement of a new ferry – though no dollar amount is specified.
Canadian Space Agency
UCTE gladly welcomes the recent investments and commitments made towards the Canadian Space Agency. Just a few weeks ago, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced 2.05 billion over 24 years:
This investment includes up to $14 million over five years, starting in 2019–20, to the Canadian Space Agency to identify opportunities where space, health and Indigenous partners could work together to develop approaches and innovative technology solutions to address challenges common to both deep space and remote health care environments.
The funding will also enable the agency to “develop and contribute a smart robotic system – including a third-generation artificial intelligence-enabled Canadarm”.
Natural Resources Canada
Additional funding for Natural Resources Canada is peppered throughout the budget: $514 million in total. The most substantial investments will be directed at programs aimed at encouraging Canadians’ use of zero-emission vehicles and helping our nation’s forest sector innovate and grow. This includes $12.6 million over three years for “the Indigenous Forestry Initiative, to support forest-based economic development for Indigenous communities across Canada”. The government will also look to Natural Resources Canada to ensure better disaster management preparation and response.
The department will also see funding to continue its work in the Arctic:
To further strengthen Canada’s leadership in the Arctic, Budget 2019 proposes to provide Natural Resources Canada with up to $7.9 million over five years, starting in 2019–20, to continue to provide scientific support for Canada’s claim to its continental shelf in both the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans. This will ensure that Canada’s sovereign rights in the Arctic Ocean are internationally recognized, with a strong claim supported by science and evidence.
The government has also used the 2019 budget to propose amending several laws that govern what happens when corporations declare bankruptcy. The amendments would seek to better protect workers’ pensions when corporations go bust.
Promoting greater equality
The budget has proposed amending both the Employment Equity Act and the Employment Equity Act to “introduce pay transparency measures for federally regulated employees in order to reduce wage gaps.”
The government has also pledged $13.7 million over the next five years to help make federal government workplaces more accessible. The government wants to lead by example: it has committed to hiring at least 5,000 people with disabilities over the next five years.