How to budget for power and strength
What do we do with our power when we have the power to do?
After more than a decade, Canada is still in the top ten largest economies in the world, and in the rarefied group of 12 nations with the lowest borrowing costs in the world. We can be whatever we want to be.
Just five days ago, the CBC published a piece suggesting the next federal budget would likely get “back to basics”. It was unclear what that meant. It could lean heavily on the term “prudent” (code for fiscal rectitude, and having a focus on lowering deficits and debt to GDP); or “growth...that Canadians can access”, with new federal funding being “outcome-based”. Prudence versus shared growth are not mutually exclusive concepts, but these priorities present very different compass settings.
Since February 24, it has become increasingly clear that Canada’s contribution to NATO is quite limited, and that is neither desirable nor unchangeable. I fully expect the next federal budget, to be delivered in a matter of weeks, will have more spending on defence. I’m here for it, but I don’t view defence strength as simply the capacity to fight wars.
The upcoming federal budget can flex its muscles beyond defence. It can build on the strengths we didn’t even know we had before this past year’s Early Learning and Childcare Agreements, using a new, more muscular form of fiscal federalism to strengthen the entire care economy, because both long-term care and healthcare are in peril.
It can double down on the strength of federal purchasing power, by bulk purchasing the 250 most commonly purchased drugs on public formularies across Canada, reducing costs and relieving the burden on provincial governments’ statutory requirements to an aging population. We’ve talked about a national Pharmacare for so long (first proposal in 1997, most recently in 2019). Provinces need and expect help on health care, particularly in the era of population aging; and this is an easy and efficient way to help us all.
It can ensure that the federal dollars baked into a 10 year plan to fix and extend public infrastructure does double and triple duty by ensuring we build community as we build community infrastructure. We already have powerful examples of where community benefit agreements strengthen individual lives and pay huge returns to the public purse, we just don’t normalize the practice. Why not?
Power is different from strength. We all have power. It matters where, when and how we can show up to use it, and for what purpose. In Canada, we are stronger than we think. But maintaining strength means exercising it, and building it together.
That’s what we need the next federal budget to convey. Not just that we are strong and powerful. But that by showing up for one another, we strengthen one another. That the power of individual interests pales next to the indomitability of the benefit to many.
We are the sum of us. So much more is possible when we act like we are.
The Atkinson Fellow on the Future of Workers is supported by the Atkinson Foundation. Find more information here.