Federal budget misses the mark, says MP Hughes

OTTAWA—The federal government budget does not hit the mark in many areas, says Carol Hughes, MP for Algoma-Manitoulin-Kapuskasing.

“I don’t think this was a very exciting budget, and obviously it is a budget that misses the mark in many areas,” stated Ms. Hughes following the budget announcement by federal finance Minister Jim Flaherty on Tuesday. “We have 300,000 more unemployed people in Canada since the last recession and we (currently) have 1.3 million unemployed people in the country.”

“The budget does address a few key issues, but there has not been significant action taken on challenges facing our communities, which is quite problematic,” said Ms. Hughes. “We have communities with infrastructure like water treatment plans that are literally falling apart. Core infrastructure funding is critical and this budget doesn’t address these.”

Ms. Hughes said that even with the funding that was announced for initiatives in the budget, “most of the funding has been slated for next year, interestingly the same year as the federal election. One of the many things we were looking for, and there is some language in the budget that is vague, is to cut the charge you get for some bills consumers receive on paper. For instance Rogers does that, where you receive a paper bill you have to pay an extra charge of $2. We had called for the government to cancel this. And there is nothing in the budget for consumers paying outrageous rates from payday lending institutions.”

“We had pushed for an airline passenger bill of rights at Christmastime, but it wasn’t talked about in the budget,” said Ms. Hughes.

Ms. Hughes continued, saying, “There were some things in the budget that would be of interest to residents of Manitoulin Island. With respect to natural heritage, $10 million is being provided over two years to expand and improve snowmobile and recreational trails in Canada, but we aren’t sure when this money will start to flow.”

“There was a piece in the budget on small craft harbours,” said Ms. Hughes. “Forty million dollars is being provided over two years toward divestiture of harbours to municipalities as well as repair and maintenance work on Small Craft harbours across Canada. However, some of this funding is designated to support jobs in coastal communities and help the needs of commercial fishermen.”

The government has also pledged $305 million over five years to extend and enhance broadband speed to five megabits per second for up to 280,000 Canadian households. An announcement is expected in the next few months as to how these funds will flow.

“Our veterans are disappointed that funding is not being provided to reinstate Veterans Affairs offices that were closed,” said Ms. Hughes.

Ms. Hughes noted, “there are certainly a lot of things we like to have seen in place that would help people such as taking action on high credit card interest rates, pay day loans and ATM charges being reduced.”

“The government is not supporting charities, is attacking public servants, those in environment groups and unions, that are all in place to make sure things are run properly,” continued Ms. Hughes.

“We are glad to see funding was provided for food safety,” said Ms. Hughes. “$390 million is being provided over five years to hire 200 additional inspectors, with the details to come. Given the concerns that have come up on food safety over the last few years, with no inspections having been carried out on food companies plants, we are happy the government saw fit to put this in the budget.”

“This is not a budget the provinces will be happy with,” stated Ms. Hughes. “The Ontario finance minister had hoped transfer payments would be increased, as would health care funding and access to help.”

“As well, there has been a delay in defence funding, which means our military personnel won’t have the new equipment they need to do the job of protecting our country,” said Mr. Hughes. “And $3.1 billion has been taken out of the budget and moved past 2016-2017.”

“For First Nations, $1.25 billion has been provided for new measures in education to allow First Nations to have control of their education,” said Ms. Hughes. “However, we question why this funding isn’t in place until 2016.”

“And in building renovation funding for schools they have put aside $500 million, which is just not sufficient—it’s a drop in the bucket as to what is needed,” continued Ms. Hughes. “For instance the Wikwemikong school is over 50 years old (Wasse Abin Junior School) and there are schools that need to be rebuilt across the board in the province, and some newly constructed, so this money won’t go very far.”

“$323 million is being provided to continue the First Nations Water and waste water action plan,” said Ms. Hughes. “And $40 million is being provided over five years toward First Nations emergency management. Although these funds are welcome dollars, this is very little compared to what is needed. We see communities where they have fire trucks and equipment, but not enough funds for a fire hall or in some cases a water system. This budget doesn’t address this bigger picture.”

“The government is looking to have a balanced budget by 2015-2016, and in fact a $6.4 billion surplus. The question is on whose backs will this come from?” asked Ms. Hughes. “And through a contingency plan they may be able to balance the budget this year. With an estimated $6.4 billion surplus next year, obviously they didn’t plan right or could have moved forward on a job creation strategy.”

Tom Sasvari