Industry offers mixed reviews of this year’s federal budget

Finance Minister Bill Morneau remains focused on building a strong middle class by placing a substantial focus in the Liberal government’s second federal budget on preparing Canadians with the skills and tools needed to succeed in the changing economy.

In his budget speech delivered on Wednesday, Morneau said that members of Canada’s middle class “want a government that puts our skilled, talented and creative people at the heart of a more innovative and globally competitive Canada.”

To that end, the government will be investing in six key economic sectors in which the country can lead globally and through which good jobs for Canadians will be created. These include digital, clean technology, agri-food, advanced manufacturing, bio-sciences and clean resources.

To help Canadians take advantage of the opportunities that will be created in these sectors, Ottawa “will support a culture of lifelong learning and skills training to help workers and their families adapt to the changing demands of our time,” Morneau said.

“We will help students get the skills and work experience they need to kick-start their careers,” he added. “We will make it more affordable for thousands of adult workers to learn new skills while raising their families. And we will give people who’ve lost their jobs the chance to go back to school for further training, helping these Canadians advance their careers and turn challenges into opportunity.”

Specifically, the government intends to undertake a significant reform of the Labour Market Transfer Agreements in collaboration with the provinces and territories to ensure that more Canadians get the assistance they need to find and keep good jobs. As well, the government proposes to invest an additional $1.8 billion over six years, starting in 2017–18, to expand these agreements.

“For Canadians looking for work, this means more opportunities to upgrade their skills, gain experience or get help to start their own business,” the budget document states. “It also means more support, like employment counselling, to help them plan their career.”

To help Canadians pursue education and upgrade their skills, the government intends to expand eligibility for Canada Student Grants for students attending school part-time as well as for students with dependent children, starting in the 2018–19 academic year.

Read: Budget 2017

Read: Government of Canada budget documents

This year’s budget also proposes to provide $287.2 million over three years, starting in 2018–19, for a three-year pilot project to test new ways to make it easier for adults who wish to return to school after spending several years in the workforce to qualify for Canada Student Loans and Grants.

As well, the government is proposing to make better use of existing flexibilities within the Employment Insurance (EI) program that allow claimants to pursue self-funded training and maintain their EI status to help more unemployed Canadians get the training needed for a well-paying job. Currently, unemployed workers receiving EI benefits risk losing their eligibility for those benefits if they return to school or undertake training for more than 14 hours a week without the necessary referral from designated authorities.

Another proposed change to the EI regime is to create a new EI caregiving benefit of up to 15 weeks. Currently, EI benefits are available to eligible caregivers in cases in which a loved one is gravely ill and at significant risk of death, or where a child is critically ill or injured. The new benefit would cover a broader range of situations in which individuals are providing care to an adult family member who requires significant support to recover from a critical illness or injury.

The budget is also aiming to improve tax fairness for the middle class by closing “loopholes that result in unfair tax advantages for some at the expense of others,” Morneau said.

Still, the federal government did not include any changes to the tax treatment of stock options, capital gains or dividend tax credits, as some had speculated, in this year’s budget. Nevertheless, Morneau said, “Canadians expect a fair tax system [and] our government is committed to taking action on this issue, and we will have more to say on this in the near future.”

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