"They’re not going to invest in important projects and other measures to make Canadians’ lives more liveable."
That’s how Nanaimo-Cowichan MP Jean Crowder summed up Tuesday’s federal budget brought down by Conservative Finance Minister Joe Oliver.
The federal Conservatives fulfilled their promise to balance the budget in 2015, Oliver said as he presented his budget in Parliament on Tuesday.
Their aim is to support jobs and growth by making Canada more competitive and allowing job-creating businesses to thrive, said Oliver, offering new and innovative support for infrastructure, and training a highly skilled workforce that responds to the evolving needs of employers.
The government also hopes to help families and communities by providing tax relief.
In another thrust, Oliver’s budget is aiming to boost national security.
The budget also includes assistance for both small and big business.
A much-talked about move sees the feds investing $750 million over two years starting in 2017-18, and $1 billion per year thereafter, for a new public transit fund.
Another talking point is an increase to the tax-free savings account annual contribution limit to $10,000, effective 2015.
For Canada’s veterans, the government is promising them and their families additional support.
"Economic Action Plan 2015 will create jobs, growth and long-term prosperity," Oliver said. "It is a balanced budget, just as we promised, and it cuts taxes for hard-working individuals and families. It is a prudent and principled plan that will see Canadians more prosperous, more secure, and even more confident in our country’s place in the world. Canadians can rest assured that under the strong leadership of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Canada’s fiscal house is in order."
Crowder, however, was not impressed with the balancing act.
"They’ve announced they’ve got a balanced budget but the budget is being balanced based on things like dipping into their contingency fund. And what spending they have announced, much of it isn’t going to happen until 2016/17," she said.
The other thing that is now being shown as revenue is employment insurance premiums, she said.
"That should never be considered a revenue. That should be in the employment insurance fund," she said, adding that budget watchers have been concerned before about what’s happening to that money.
"They’ve scooped money out of it before but now they’re just booking it as part of their total revenue," said Crowder.
"It’s an election budget: they’ve got a balanced budget but don’t look too closely at what it’s going to cost you to do that," she said.
The projected increases in funding for various projects also needs investigation, she said.
"They are following what they usually do. For instance they’ve announced funding for public transit projects but it doesn’t start till 2017/18 and the investment is contingent on municipalities borrowing money from private lenders. It’s raising concerns about public-private partnerships, but some of those P3s have not been that successful."
For years, politicians at lower levels of government have joined the general public in complaining that the federal government is downloading its programs onto them.
And that is continuing, Crowder said, pointing to health care as an example.
"They’re not putting in what the actual commitments were when the Health Accord was introduced in 2004. So, in effect it ends up being a cut because it’s not going to keep pace with inflation or the growing demand. On top of that, they’re not doing anything with regards to lowering the cost of prescription drugs, which is a major health care expenditure for provinces," she said.
It’s becoming well known that many seniors are going into debt to cover those expenses and Crowder has heard even more sad stories.
"We know there are seniors who are cutting their medication in half because they can’t afford it. That’s just wrong. It’s a major problem. Overall, Canadians have got the highest household debt on record. And there really isn’t any suggestion of working with Canadians to help them reduce that debt," she said.
That subject also covers the problem of costly housing.
"There’s nothing in the budget around affordability for housing. There are things in the budget around refinancing mortgages for not-for-profits and cooperatives but that doesn’t address the issues around the lack of social housing that’s being built and the long-term problems with that."
Asked if she thought the lower end of the income spectrum has been left out of this budget, the Nanaimo-Cowichan MP replied, "Oh yes. They totally have. The government has this boutique of tax credits but you have to pay tax in order to qualify for those."
"Finally, there’s really nothing for the environment. And Canada is so hammered internationally, our reputation is taking such a beating, for not doing anything with regards to taking a look at greenhouse gas emissions and climate change."
However, Crowder saw one positive note.
"They are decreasing the small business tax rate, which is something we’ve been calling for forever because small businesses end up being the economic engine, especially in smaller communities like ours," she said.