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Area politicians divided on 2018 federal budget

Area politicians divided on 2018 federal budget

by Advertiser staff

WELLINGTON CTY. - Not surprisingly, area politicians have different takes, depending on their affiliations, on the 2018 federal budget released last week.

The budget, officially tabled on Feb. 27 by finance minister Bill Morneau, includes revenue of $293.5 billion and expenses of $311.3 billion, resulting in a projected deficit of $17.8 billion.

“I’m excited,” said Guelph Liberal MP Lloyd Longfield.

“I was really glad to see the investments in research, the innovation and skills plan.”

Longfield added he’s been working on innovation and business support in Guelph.

“To simplify access to innovation programs is something I’ve been asking for as an MP,” he said. “And to see Innovation Canada be set up with a one-door approach to help people get connected to the right level of funding and the right directions on helping them get help with export development was huge.”

Conservative MP Michael Chong, of Wellington-Halton Hills, told the Advertiser he likes the idea of enhancing parental leave benefits and investing in scientific research, but overall he is “not impressed” with the budget.

In a March 1 interview, he said, “When you look at the budget, growth projections for the next three years on a per capita basis, the increase is 1% this year, .4% next year and .5% in 2020.”

Chong said, “This is not helping families who are struggling to pay their bills.”

Perth-Wellington MP John Nater, also a Conservative, said he too is disappointed with the budget.

“Families, seniors, students, small business owners, and young people entering the workforce continue to struggle under the federal tax burden,” said Nater in a press release.

Deficits and debt

The 2018 budget, Nater said, adds $78.6 billion in new debt over the next five years, which means Canadian taxpayers will be paying an additional $8.7 billion annually in interest and debt charges.

Chong criticized the government for “borrowing money ... [for] things we can’t afford,” while “not spending money on things it should be spending money on.”

Chong said the projected deficit is three times what was promised during the past election - about $18 billion this year alone.

“[The Liberals] clearly don’t have a plan and are making it up as they go along,” said Chong.

He said the Minister of Finance was asked within the House of Commons and by journalists when the budget would be balanced - and there was no answer.

“On (the government’s) current trajectory, it could be decades,” said Chong.

Longfield said the Liberal government is taking a different approach.

“The concern isn’t so much balancing the books, the concern is are we reducing our debt-to-GDP ratio,” Longfield said.

“If we have the capacity to take on debt, and ... we’re half the debt-to-GDP ratios of other countries.

“So we have the capacity to invest in Canada.”

He added that right now Canada has the best economic growth in the G7, the lowest unemployment rate in 40 years and social programs are coming forward to help marginalized people.

“I think we’re getting a better country,” he said.

Rural, municipal issues

Minto Mayor George Bridge, who is Wellington County’s representative to the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, said he is pleased the government delivered, as anticipated, a $100-million contribution for rural broadband development to help underserviced communities.

But the funding is just the tip of the iceberg compared to what will be needed, he added.

“And they realize that’s not enough,” Bridge said.

Longfield said the continued broadband funding is one of the highlights for rural residents.

“Guelph gets great broadband but as soon as you get outside Guelph there’s gaps and how do we fill those gaps?” he said. “So there’s continued investment there.”

Longfield added there’s investment in low orbit satellite systems to help reach rural areas and precision agriculture.

Yet Nater said the budget, “for the third year in a row,” largely ignores farmers, farm families and rural communities.

He also criticized a lack of funding for infrastructure projects.

“Throughout my pre-budget consultations, municipalities and community leaders reinforced the critical need for investments in local infrastructure,” he stated in the release.

“However, this budget fails to deliver. In fact, $2.2 billion in infrastructure funding has been delayed past 2019 and an additional $2.4 billion in infrastructure funding has been delayed past 2023.”

He added, “Throughout Perth-Wellington, local municipalities have identified key infrastructure priorities that may go unfunded due to these delays.”

Chong said the Liberals are “not spending money on things which are essential, such roads and bridges,” as they had promised, he said.

“There are billions of dollars committed to be spent and the programs are lapsing,” Chong said.

Marijuana taxes

Confirmation the federal government will keep only one quarter of the revenue from any excise tax on marijuana after legalization, with the provinces getting the rest, is good news for municipalities, said Bridge.

He explained the province is expected to pass a significant portion of that revenue on to municipalities, which will be on the front lines of implementation and law enforcement related to the changes.

He said Ontario’s premier confirmed the funds would be forthcoming during remarks at the recent Ontario Good Roads Association convention in Toronto.

“Kathleen Wynne did say at Good Roads …  stay tuned, money will be coming directly to the municipalities in some ways, obviously policing and those types of things from that 75 per cent,” Bridge explained.

It was originally anticipated the federal government might keep as much as half the tax revenue from legal marijuana sales, leaving less for the province and municipalities, Bridge pointed out.

The feds, he said, would also be spending some of their 25 per cent share on “drug abuse programs and that type of thing - awareness.”

Bridge said the province and municipalities will need a large portion of their share for increased policing costs.

“The OPP will have to do the roadside checks, anything that creates any more problems with people driving under the influence or that type of thing,” said Bridge.

He noted testing suspected drug-impaired drivers “will be a lot more money than a roadside breathalyzer.”

Pharmacare

On the matter of proposed universal pharmacare, Chong offered a number of opinions.

“This is something the Liberals have promised for decades ... and failed to deliver ... similar to its promise of a universal childcare system,” he said.

Chong also stated the pharmacare file is headed by a senior minister in Premier Kathleen Wynne’s government.

“I’m not sure the government can have confidence this won’t end up in the same fiscal mess federally, as exists in the province of Ontario.”

Chong suggested the proposed pharmacare could cost upwards of $20 billion per year and would be one of the largest new federal programs in decades.

However, he said he believes the idea is worth looking into, particularly for those without other coverage or those with rare illnesses that require expensive drugs.

Children/families

Other budget items that will impact municipalities are the gender-based initiatives, including the new EI Parental Sharing Benefit, which allows a child’s second caregiver to have the option to take five weeks of “use-it-or-lose-it” time off work, if the child’s other parent takes a leave.

“How to work the new maternity rules and everything else into play,” will be among the challenges facing particularly smaller, rural municipalities, Bridge said.

“In rural areas  it’s hard to find people to do maternity leaves,” he noted.

 Chong said, anything the federal government can do “to help parents raise their children is a good move.”

However, he said the government could take it a step further by reducing taxes on parental leave.

Small business

Chong said, “while the government has backed off on a lot of proposed changes to small business taxation, it is still charging ahead” with a number of changes.

“I think it has created a lot of uncertainty,” he said.

“Investment in Canadian industry, both large and small, is down across the country. I think that is reflective of the lack of plan from this government on the economy and business taxation.”

NAFTA

Nater criticized the government’s failure to include in the budget “a meaningful plan or framework for how the government will adjust to a modified or eliminated” North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

“I am concerned about the jobs in Perth-Wellington that are dependent on exports to the United States and Mexico; unfortunately it appears the Liberals are not,” stated Nater.

Longfield said the government doesn’t know where the NAFTA agreement will head.

“What we did do is we took the private economists’ opinions and we took the top ones and put a curve together and took the bottom forecasts and put a curve together and we’ve set a budget based on being in between the two curves,” he said.

“So we’re using the economists’ information from the markets to come up with the budget.”

He said the government can “design programs to the extremes.” He said the government has five different scenarios it is planning for and those have been taken into account with the budgeting.

He did add Canada has the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) with Europe and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), between Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.

“Those are concrete,” he said, adding Canada still has a trade agreement with the U.S.

“It may change, but I think we’ll continue to have some type of an agreement with the States,” he said.

Journalism

The budget includes some funding to support local journalism. Starting in 2018-2019 the federal government will be providing $50 million over five years to one or more independent non-governmental organizations to support local journalism in under-serviced communities.

The government states the organizations will have full responsibility to administer the funds, respecting the independence of the press.

In addition, the federal government will, over the next year, be exploring new models that will enable private giving and philanthropic support for trusted, professional, non-profit journalism and local news.

“This could include new ways for Canadian newspapers to innovate and be recognized to receive charitable status for not-for-profit provision of journalism, reflecting the public interest that they serve,” states the Liberal budget document.

In a response to the journalism initiatives in the budget, News Media Canada, stated, “We are concerned that the amount announced is far too little to address the growing challenge of providing local news.

“It falls well short of the recommendations contained in the Report of the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage as well as the Public Policy Forum’s Shattered Mirror report.”

The industry had requested $350 million to support a Canadian Journalism Fund, which would have supported journalism across the country.

News Media Canada also stated, “$10 million a year for the next five years will not prevent more newspapers from closing nor will it bring back any of the estimated 16,500 journalism jobs that have been lost across the country over the past 10 years.

“In the coming months and years, more and more Canadian communities will lose their local newspaper.”

March 9, 2018

 
 

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