Monday, 28 March 2016

A good budget for the poor

There has been a lot of talk in the past week about the latest federal budget. Some are apoplectic that it increases the government’s deficit. Others say it hasn’t gone far enough. My experience suggests that when neither polarity likes a budget, it’s probably a reasonable Canadian compromise.

Like you, I depend on the media for understanding these kinds of events. But for the first time, I attended a post-budget briefing offered by one of our local accounting firms.

I learned a lot. And it wasn’t dull or dry, either. This was the kind of expert opinion that is really useful. The devil, as they say, is always in the details, but I want to share with you some of my learning about the effect of the budget on ordinary people.

The Universal Child Care Benefit and the Canada Child Tax Credit are being replaced a new Canada Child Benefit. It’s universal, geared to income and tax free. The Child Disability benefit, which you have to apply for, will be continued.

Family income splitting is removed except for seniors with pension income.

Education and textbook tax credits are gone, but more student grants for tuition as opposed to loans are available.

Seniors at the lowest end of the income scale will see an increase in their Guaranteed Income Supplement by 10%. That will be adjusted quarterly and linked to changes in the cost of living. Eligibility for Old Age Security and the GIS starting at 65, reversing the plan of the previous government, is being phased in by 2023.

Another important measure, and one which will make low income taxpayers and my friends at the United Way of Bruce Grey happy is that amounts received from the Ontario Electricity Support Program will be exempt from income calculations in any social assistance plan in Ontario. This starts in 2016 and will apply to the subsequent tax years.

Another change which affects many people is that the HST has been removed on insulin pens and pen needles, as well as on intermittent urinary catheters if prescribed by a medical professional.

Is this a good budget? I think so. More support is promised for indigenous communities, affordable housing and public transit. People on the margins and edges of society will see positive change. Of course all of that is dependent upon filing a tax return. It makes sense to do that. Help is available in the community if you need it. Just call 211 and ask.

And the deficit? I don’t believe it is the end of the world as some politicians like to say it is. Bank economists are suggesting that in times of record low interest rates and high need it makes a lot of sense to increase government spending. Time will tell us if that opinion is right.

Rev. David Shearman is a retired United Church minister in Owen Sound and the host of Faithworks on Rogers TV - Grey County.