News Local

Local reaction to big spending budget

By Stephen Uhler, The Daily Observer

Finance Minister Bill Morneau shakes hands with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as he arrives in the House of Commons prior to tabling the federal budget in Ottawa on Tuesday, Feb.27, 2018.

Finance Minister Bill Morneau shakes hands with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as he arrives in the House of Commons prior to tabling the federal budget in Ottawa on Tuesday, Feb.27, 2018.

You could be forgiven for thinking a federal election was happening this year and not in 2019.

On Tuesday, the Liberal government tabled a people-orientated budget which featured $21.5 billion in new spending, including concentrating on encouraging women in the workplace and work on implementing pay equity within the government, improving parental leave for fathers and non-birth parents, pumping billions toward Indigenous communities, earmarking more cash for research and beginning to look into setting up a national pharmacare program.
It is also increasing spending in foreign aid, adding $2 billion.
But it is what it is not doing which concerns local mayors and members of the business community.
Pembroke Mayor Michael LeMay said it seems to him a ‘people focused budget,’ and he admits he is pleased with the focus on encouraging women to become entrepreneurs and get into the trades, areas which he feels smaller municipalities will benefit from, as business is the continuing key to their success.
However, he is disappointed in the lack of any mention of additional infrastructure funding for municipalities, considering last year's budget was all about such things. The mayor said he is hopeful the 2017 funding pledges do carry forward into this year.
“I pray the funding they allocated in 2017 is still there,” LeMay said.
The mayor said he is pleased the federal government is providing funding to Indigenous communities, is giving thought to a pharmacare program and is putting money into research.
“I can't say it is a terrible budget,” LeMay said, “but I would have liked to have seen something more specific on infrastructure.”
Petawawa Mayor Bob Sweet agrees he would have liked to see something more allocated to infrastructure funding, as municipalities cannot afford to keep up with the cost of replacement and repairs to their roads, bridges, and water and sewer systems. He said Petawawa has been working on getting money to widen Petawawa Boulevard and the bridge to Garrison Petawawa for a decade now, and are still unsuccessful.
“We are looking for the federal and provincial governments as partners in this,” he said. “We're hoping to get money so we can make strides in getting this started.”
Sweet said one thing that bothers him is there didn't seem to be any additional funding for the military, noting there was nothing for equipment or to care for injured veterans.
On the other side, he hoped Canadian Nuclear Laboratories would benefit from the $3 billion in research and development spending, and was pleased with money for affordable housing.
He said improved maternity leave is a good thing, while the expansion of pay equity within the public service may have impacts elsewhere, but he isn't certain as to the extent. Once the budget has been delivered, the ins and outs of it will become more apparent.
“As always, the devil is in the details,” Sweet said, “and as the days and weeks roll out, we'll learn what else in in there.”
Maria Morena-Church, president of the Upper Ottawa Valley Chamber of Commerce, was less than impressed with it, seeing it as   more of an election strategy than an actual financial plan.
“It was evident it was a political piece more than an actual budget,” she said, explaining it seems designed to hurt the political chances of anyone opposed to it.
Morena-Church said while the idea behind encouraging more women to enter business and the workforce is a good idea, the government isn't doing it right. One thing is the five weeks of maternity leave is wonderful for those staying behind to look after the kids, but does nothing to bring women back into work, or enhance the economy.
That is because it is missing a crucial component – dealing with child care costs.
“This budget has set aside $1.2 billion for the five-week Take It or Leave It parental leave, $1.4 billion for women in business, but nothing to lower the costs of child care,” she said.
“It is dangerous for the government to put ideology over basic economics,” Morena-Church continued. “Why would you go to work if your entire paycheque goes to pay for child care?”
She said while the Chamber of Commerce will spend time going over the budget, there was little business-related mentioned in the document except for a one per cent reduction in the small business tax rate in 2019.
“Most of the benefits from this budget start in 2019, the election year,” the chamber president said. “This is not a true promise, but an election grab.”
Michael St. Jean, chairman of the Pembroke Business Improvement Area, said the finance minister has made it quite clear that this budget is about women, job creation and Indigenous issues.
“He is putting $21.5 billion on new spending over six years, which I believe will be good for our economy and will help it to continue to grow and prosper,” he said.
“More than 50 per cent of Downtown Pembroke (businesses) have women entrepreneurs and I feel any measures taken by the government to help make them more successful and to increase their presence in the workforce is beneficial.”
St. Jean said he is definitely in favour of the $448 million over five years for youth hiring, saying this is important as youth are the future in the economy.
“Another positive thing I see is that the government is providing money to grow medium to large business,” he said. “However, I feel there could have been more stimulus for small businesses.”
St. Jean said the government lowered the small business tax by 1.5 per cent to come into effect in 2019, and local businesses should benefit from this budget’s $750 million that has been earmarked towards cyber security, which will be phased in over five years. There is also $100 million over five years to develop broadband in rural areas.
“A couple of items that we as a community should benefit from as well is the Canada Student Grants and Loans has expanded eligibility for students previously in the work force and returning to school, deep investment in regional assistance development agencies, and $3.2 billion over five years for investment in Canadian scientists and researchers,” he said.
“I believe the Liberals have championed their values and I feel this budget is good for the long-term future of Canadians.”
The Pembroke Daily Observer made efforts to contact Renfrew-Nipissing-Pembroke MP Cheryl Gallant for her take on the budget but Gallant had not responded to the request by press time.

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