The federal budget includes new funds to improve housing affordability. (Black Press files)

Ottawa’s housing strategy offers $1 billion a year

Finance Minister Bill Morneau promises ‘new partnership’ with provinces

The Justin Trudeau government’s new national housing plan promises about $1 billion a year for the next decade to help bring housing costs into reach for more Canadians.

Finance Minister Bill Morneau’s second budget, revealed Wednesday, promises a “renewed partnership” with provinces, and an additional $11.2 billion over 11 years to increase housing affordability.

That is on top of last year’s budget commitment to fund “low-cost loans and new financing tools to encourage municipalities, housing developers and non-profit housing providers to develop more affordable rental housing units.”

A centrepiece of Morneau’s budget is skills development, to help people adapt to a rapidly changing economy, focused on agri-food, digital industries, “advanced manufacturing,” clean technology and bio-sciences.

Employment Insurance premiums are going up five cents next year, while parental leave can be extended to 18 months, at a lower rate of one third of average weekly earnings.

Operating deficits continue to soar in the federal government’s plan, projected to go from $23 billion in the current fiscal year to $28 billion in 2017-18. The budget forecasts the government would still be in the red $19 billion by 2021-22. Trudeau campaigned in 2015 on a promise to run deficits no larger than $10 billion a year and balance the operating budget by 2019.

Aaron Wudrick of the Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation said weaker projected revenues combined with new spending will see the debt pile up to the point where interest costs alone will be $143 billion over the next five years.

Wudrick praised some measures, including a promised spending review for government departments, a commitment to expand free trade between provinces and an effort to crack down on tax evasion.

Conservative interim leader Rona Ambrose said the government’s vaunted tax cut for the middle class last year has been eaten away by tax and fee increases. “It’s like they’re nickel and diming everyone,” Ambrose said.

Burnaby MP Kennedy Stewart, the federal NDP’s B.C. caucus chair, pointed to cuts of more than $1 billion for Canada’s climate change framework over two years.

“After promising real change, Justin Trudeau adopted Stephen Harper’s environmental assessment process and climate change targets,” Stewart said. “This budget shows British Columbians the Liberal government is more of the same.”

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