Federal Budget Falls Far Short of Need for Recovery, CAW President says

March 22, 2011, 4:40 PM EST

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CAW President Ken Lewenza called the newly released federal budget disappointing, and said it contains less than a handful of measures to support workers and the economy.

Lewenza did commend the government for introducing improvements to the Guaranteed Income Supplement, but said it wouldn't have happened without NDP leader Jack Layton pushing the government on the issue.

"Without the leadership of Jack Layton, our seniors would have been left out in the cold by this government once again," said Lewenza.

Lewenza deplored what he called the deceit and anti-democratic tendencies of the Harper Conservative government, including the current budget which included only small offerings. "The Canadian people deserve better than what we've seen come out of this Parliament and this government over the last number of months. This budget is not about political integrity and staying the course, but pre-election campaigning."

He also underlined the need for ongoing infrastructure support, not just as a job booster when the economy is on the skids. "Our country's infrastructure, including roads, rail systems, public transit, telecommunications and other areas cannot be ignored the bulk of the time and still be expected to function at full capacity -these entities need ongoing attention from responsible government.

Other governments in the developed world are attentive to this fact and their economies reap the benefits on an ongoing basis," said Lewenza. He said that the country requires a formal infrastructure investment program from the federal government.

Lewenza also warned that the best way to pay down the deficit is to grow the economy, as opposed to cutting spending, which will stall job growth.

One major area where the budget falls far short is support for training and unemployed workers, said Lewenza.

"The economy is still sputtering," said Lewenza. Although the actual number of jobs lost since the recession began have been recovered, they have largely been in the form of part-time and temporary employment, which sets a precarious foundation for the economy.

Lewenza had several suggestions to strengthen Employment Insurance and supports for unemployed workers. He recommends extending the EI benefit period, as long as national unemployment rates exceed six per cent, which would still be high by historic standards. There is also a case to be made for revamping the EI Training Benefit to include more than just tuition support so that more people can use the program to transition into opportunities in new fields. 

He also said that across the country, the number of qualifying hours should be set to a uniform 360 hours country-wide, especially in light of what he called the "bad jobs recovery" characterized by temporary, part time employment.

Lewenza also voiced his concern that Finance Minister Jim Flaherty failed at another opportunity to improve the Canada Pension Plan, as called for by two of the three opposition parties, said Lewenza. He said that it's not agreement from the provinces that's missing, but the will of the federal government to help Canadians. Lewenza called this lack of action even more offensive given that the government has now eliminated the mandatory retirement age among federally regulated employees.

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