Federal budget holds little benefit for rural and Northern Ontario: Hughes

OTTAWA—Algoma-Manitoulin-Kapuskasing MP Carol Hughes was critical of the budget tabled by Finance Minister Jim Flaherty last week.

“Yesterday’s (February 11) budget amounts to status quo for Northern Ontario when what the region needs is a commitment to developing a better employment base and protecting those jobs that already exist,” said Ms. Hughes.

Ms. Hughes pointed to the lack of any commitment from the federal government on the development of the Ring of Fire in Northern Ontario as an example of its indifference to the region. “It is clear that the potential for resource development in the Ring of Fire is important,” said Ms. Hughes. “But to develop this project sustainably, it is important that First Nations communities are a major partner. Despite Conservative promises to revive talks, there has been no action.”

Ms. Hughes said that she worries that job creation is a distant consideration for the government which has more or less put the country on hold while they build a surplus to hand out pre-election goodies next year. “Yesterday’s budget does nothing to make things happen in the Ring of Fire,” said Ms. Hughes. “What is the Conservative plan to put this project on track?”

Ms. Hughes says that the Ring of Fire is the marquee development project for the region and feels that if there is no cash for a project with so much potential benefit, it sends a strong message about how this government views the region.

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne extended that sentiment to include all of Ontario during a press conference following the budget announcement. In the press conference, the premier and her finance minister George Sousa maintained that Ontario has been heavily shortchanged by the Harper government in successive budgets, placing an unfair burden on an economically suffering Ontario to support the rest of the country.

Premier Wynne called on the federal government to “stop taking unilateral actions that hurt the people of Ontario.”

“In its budget yesterday, the federal government cut $641 million in transfers that help support programs the people of Ontario rely on,” said the premier. “This cut is in addition to the more than 110 actions the federal government has taken since 2006 that have hurt people and businesses across Ontario.”

Finance Minister Sousa noted that “in recent years the federal government has eliminated funding for programs in health care, environmental protection, community safety and skills development and training that Ontarians rely upon to create jobs and grow the economy. Ontario has stepped in to fill in the gaps to protect the high-quality programs and services the people of Ontario deserve. For example, the province is moving ahead on its own made-in-Ontario pension plan because the federal government unilaterally ended discussions towards any agreement on enhancing the Canada Pension Plan.”

The finance minister noted that Ontario has been calling on the federal government to be fair to Ontario, and work collaboratively on key priorities including: enhancing the CPP so Ontarians can retire with dignity and security; supporting development in the Ring of Fire to help create jobs and strengthen the economy; providing predictable long-term transit and affordable housing funding so Ontario can build modern transit systems and support the province’s most vulnerable people.”

“Protecting critical programs and services is part of the Ontario government’s plan to invest in people, build modern infrastructure and support a dynamic and innovative business climate,” concluded Minister Sousa.

Conversely, the Ontario Federation of Hunters and Anglers had some good things to say about the budget. They applauded “the federal government’s decision to substantially increase the funding to the highly successful Recreational Fisheries Conservation Partnership Program by providing an additional $15 million over two years.”

“Recreational fishing in Canada generates over $8 billion in annual economic activity, and the expansion of this program will allow for dozens of new projects across the country to become a reality,” OFAH Executive Director Angelo Lombardo said in a press release. “The OFAH Community Stream Steward Program was fortunate enough to receive funding that has been used to mitigate barriers to fish passage, stabilize banks, and enhance habitats in cold-water trout and salmon streams. Ours was one of 96 projects from across Canada funded in the first year of the program. The new funding provided by the Harper government will provide more of the same on-the-ground tangible results in local communities that might not otherwise be possible. Applications for year two of the original program are currently being reviewed.”

Assembly of First Nations (AFN) National Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo responded to the 2014 federal budget in a news release by “acknowledging the announcement of new, significant and secured funding for First Nations education as a foundation for building stronger First Nations citizens, communities and governments.” National Chief Atleo said he stands with all First Nations in continuing the press for investments in other priority areas that will achieve success for First Nations and all Canadians based on fairness and opportunity. 
“We welcome this necessary investment to support our new way forward toward First Nations control of First Nations education based on our rights, jurisdiction and treaties,” said Chief Atleo.  “This is new funding that is now secured in the federal budget. This will help close the gap and support fairness and success for First Nations children and students. The resources in today’s budget are the result of strong advocacy and action by First Nations leaders, youth and elders and we commend all those who stand with us in taking action to realize our long-standing vision of First Nations control of First Nations education.”

The funding of the First Nations Control of Education Act are not slated to come into play until 2016, following the next federal election.