VANCOUVER, Feb. 28 (Xinhua) -- Canada's federal government this week unveiled a budget that will see heavy spending, new debt and substantial support for Canadian women and indigenous interests.
On Tuesday, Canadian Finance Minister Bill Morneau released the federal budget for the 2018-2019 fiscal year.
The document outlined plans for 21.5 billion Canadian dollars in new spending, which will result in a deficit of 18.1 billion dollars next year.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's government expects to operate its budgets in the red ink through 2023.
The budget, titled: Equality + Growth, A Strong Middle Class, will include total expenses of 338.5 billion dollars and total revenues of 323.4 billion dollars.
In the Canadian federal system, individual provinces handle major public programs such as education, health and childcare.
Included in the new spending is money aimed at improved parental leave and support, gender equality strategies and anti-harassment initiatives.
The budget, for instance, promised to introduce new legislation to increase gender pay equity, but provided no cost plan for that.
Specifically, it will include 5 billion dollars over five years for social services, infrastructure and housing for indigenous peoples.
Another 1.2 billion dollars would be applied over five years to provide five weeks of paid parental leave for fathers, and non-birth partners, including same-sex partners.
Another 231-million dollars was pledged to fight the opioid crisis.
The budget also committed to creating a publicly funded pharmacare plan, but the document and announcement provided no details.
"We believe that Canada's future success rests on making sure that every Canadian has an opportunity to work, and to earn a good living from that work," Morneau said Tuesday. "And that includes Canada's talented, ambitious and hard-working women."
The Liberal government, which came to power in October 2015, promised to deliver a gender-focused budget and it appears to have done that, said Marina Adshade, an economist at the University of British Columbia.
"The main thing that's there is a policy that isn't really for women, but rather it's a policy for men," she said, referring to the expansion of parental leave to men. "It gives men additional leave to stay home when they have children."
The government says the budget aims to attract women to jobs that have been dominated by men, including in the trades. Presumably, more help from men in parenting roles would allow more options for women in their professional lives.
However, Adshade said the budget fails to help women in Canada who are single parents.
"The women in this country who have the most difficult time economically are women who are parenting alone," she said. "There is absolutely nothing in this budget for those women. I'm constantly disappointed by this. If we really care about the lives of women, if we really care about the lives of children, those are the women that our tax dollars need to target."
She said more financial support is also needed for women in the sciences. "They really could have done that," she said.
More broadly, Adshade said the high-spending budget comes at a time that the national economy is performing quite well.
"Most economists have no objection to budget deficits when the economy is weak because we understand the need for government spending in a weak economy," she said. "Economists really struggle with a deficit budget when the economy is doing as well as it's doing right now. I'm challenged by that."
The budget appears to be putting money towards long-term economic growth strategies, such as boosting support and prospects for women and indigenous people.
"For that reason, perhaps the deficit isn't such a bad thing," Adshade said, noting that long-term budgets deficits should not be acceptable to Canadians. "This has to be short-term spending. It can' t be long term spending."
Canada has a debt-to-GDP ratio of 30.1%, which is quite healthy, Adshade said, noting that Canadian governments in recent decades have tended to pay down the debt during strong economic times. "We're not doing that right now," she said. "We're accumulating debt. And I'm not in love with that idea."
Andrew Scheer, the leader of the official opposition Conservative Party, blasted the budget on Wednesday, noting that the deficit is triple that of what Trudeau promised during the 2015 election.
"Never has a Prime Minister spent so much to achieve so little," he said. "Despite last year's economic good fortune, Justin Trudeau has failed once again to deliver the results that matter to Canadians."