On Tuesday, April 21st, the Conservative government released its federal budget and Kootenay Columbia MP David Wilks is pleased with what he feels is a budget that has the potential to positively affect those in his riding.
“The minister came out with a balanced budget and we said in the 2011 election we’d balance the budget before the next election and we did,” Wilks said, “so I’m very happy with the budget that came out today.”
The budget, normally presented in February, was delayed as the government waited to gauge the impact of low oil prices on the Canadian economy.
In a phone call to The Valley Echo immediately after the budget was made public, Wilks read directly from the 518-page document, highlighting the items he believes “will be good for the area.”
He was quick to point out the proposed reduction in the small business tax rate from 11 to nine per cent by 2019, and a one-time investment of $65 million to business and industry associations to help them work with post secondary institutions to better align curricula with the needs of employers, citing College of the Rockies as an example, which works with many employers to provide the training they need.
One of the big ticket items in the budget that will have an impact on the northern part of the Kootenay-Columbia riding is the $2.8 billion earmarked for improving infrastructure to heritage, tourism, waterway and highway access located within national historic sites, national parks and national marine conservation areas across Canada.
“So that’s a significant amount of money that I will be speaking to the Ministry of Environment about to ensure we get our adequate amount to continue to move forward with improvements to the TransCanada Highway within the national parks,” said Wilks.
He alluded to a forthcoming announcement with regards to Kootenay National Park that had not yet been made by The Valley Echo’s press time.
“There are other priorities as well,” said Wilks. “I do know there will be an announcement shortly with regards to Kootenay National Park and in specific to improvements to the pool, Radium Hot Springs.”
The announcement has nothing to do with the federal government’s proposed plan to privatize the hot pools.
“This has to do with improvements that will be moving forward from a national perspective through Parks Canada,” he said. “I’m just not allowed to say what it is yet but I can tell you it’s coming, very shortly.”
Investment in forestry was also high on Wilks’ list. The Forest Innovation Program and the Expanding Market Opportunities Program will receive $86 million over to years starting in 2016-2017.
“Canfor has utilized this program in the past to upgrade their technology to better suit the world market and this will give them an opportunity to access that program, to better adapt to world markets as they adjust,” said Wilks.
Tourism in the region stands to benefit from the federal government’s plan to promote Canadian tourism .
“The Economic Action Plan 2015 proposes to provide additional support to the Canadian Tourism Commission to embark on a new marketing campaign in the United States in partnership with the tourism industry,” Wilks said. “Details will be announced in the upcoming months.”
“One of the ones that is significant to me because we were lobbied very hard by the Health Committee is extending Employment Insurance compassionate care benefits from six weeks to six months to better support Canadians caring for gravely ill family members,” said Wilks.
A comprehensive renewal of the Agreement on Internal Trade, a new home accessibility tax credit for seniors and persons with disabilities to help with the cost of assuring their homes from being safe, secure and accessible, additional resources of $193.4 million over the next five years to Veterans Affairs Canada to continue to improve service delivery to veterans and their families, and an increase in TFSA contributions from $5,500 to $10,000 were other significant items to Wilks.
“There are 11 million Canadians that participated in the TFSA that have maxed out their contributions,” said Wilks. “One third. It’s significant. A majority of Canadians were asking for an increase to contributions, so that has occurred.”
According to the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, this particular budget measure for seniors, as well as lowering the mandatory withdrawals from the Registered Retirement Income Fund, underscores the Centre’s criticism of the budget: that the tax cuts overwhelmingly benefit the wealthy and do little to meet the needs of those living in poverty.
“More than half of seniors don’t even have a TFSA. Sixty-five percent of seniors have less than $50,000 in an RRIF or RRSP,” states a Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives press release. “Like so many other measures in this budget, the majority of the benefits from the TFSA and RRIF changes go to those who need it least. A better way to help seniors would be to cancel the increased age of eligibility in OAS or expand the Canada Pension Plan… let’s not kid ourselves into thinking that either of these measures will have any impact on senior poverty or the retirement savings crisis.”
Wilks couldn’t speak to whether or not the budget addresses the national student debt crisis, which according to the Canadian Federation of Students, has surpassed $15 billion with more than 178,000 Canadians unable to make any payments on their student loans as of September 2014.
“One (item) that is significant to the Kootenay Columbia area,” he said, “is extending the Recreational Fisheries Conservation Program by providing $10 million per year for the next three years starting 2016-2017 to support the conservation and recreational fisheries across the country.” Wilks used Kootenay Lake, where there has been a significant decline in Kokanee salmon, as an example of how this could benefit the region. “We don’t really know why that’s happening, but we need to get volunteer groups like Rod and Gun Clubs and fisheries groups to get involved with the process of trying to figure out why we’re having such significant decline in Kokanee salmon,” he said.
As for criticism levelled at the federal government for its recent fuel spill response in Vancouver’s English Bay, Wilks said $80 million will be provided to the National Energy Board for safety and environmental protection, and greater engagement with Canadians.
“What greater engagement with Canadians means, I don’t know,” Wilks said.
For Kootenay Columbia NDP candidate Wayne Stetski’s reaction to the 2015 federal budget, see his Letter to the Editor, “What the numbers really tell us”.