The Liberal government announced their 2016 budget on Mar. 22, detailing how they plan to fund federal programs and initiatives. The 271-page document, titled “A New Approach”, features eight chapters, including a chapter dedicated to helping Indigenous peoples and another for growing the middle class.
Kootenay-Columbia MP Wayne Stetski shared his thoughts on the new budget and how it will impact the residents in the riding.
From a macro point of view, Stetski believes many people will be happy to receive monies previously cut during the nine-year Conservative reign.
“You will probably find a number of Canadians are happy about aspects of the budget, but that needs to be put in context, of course,” he told The Free Press. “The Conservative government cut a lot of funding to a lot of their initiatives over their term and so for a number of organizations, it’s just really exciting to have some money coming back again.”
One such organization that will receive some financial relief is the CBC. The Minister of Canadian Heritage, Mélanie Joly, is assigned the task of working with the CBC to develop a five-year accountability plan, and the CBC is set to receive $675 million in the next five years.
Stetski says he is pleased with some of the spending plans, such as environmental initiatives and aid for seniors.
“I’m happy to see $1 billion aimed to clean technology, $3.4 billion for climate change, eco system health, improving the environmental assessment processes. They have talked about $5 billion for green infrastructure,” he said. “For seniors, increasing guaranteed income supplement (GIS) to help lift seniors out of poverty. They are adding $947 to the GIS. That doesn’t start until July, so seniors will have to wait a while yet. Frankly, seniors sometimes have to choose between food and prescription medication, so that was really high on our list, to get more money going to seniors, so we are happy to see that.”
One flaw, according to Stetski, is the Liberal’s plan to role out the funds in five years, essentially adding a condition to the money.
“Another interesting thing to look at if you look at the budget document itself, a number of things are scheduled to come into effect in five years from now. We are three and a half years away from the next election and a number of the budget numbers are backloaded so that the major funding will happen only if you re-elect a liberal government. They have set it up that way.”
During the campaign, the Liberals did say they were going to run a $10 billion deficit for the first three years and balance the budget in the final year. However, this budget features a deficit of $29.4 billion, and is projected to be that high for the next two years, meaning Canada could be left with a near $90 billion deficit at the end of their first term. Stetski says this highlights an important question for voters – is it worth it?
“I think it’s worth asking the people of Kootenay-Columbia six months from now, is their life and their general feeling about things, is it better? Is it worse? Has it stayed the same and there is no change? Because when you look at putting our country and our children and ourselves further into debt, in my mind anyway, you need to see some positive benefit that individuals will feel,” he said. “We have to wait about six months to see if there are any benefits and if people feel that it actually benefitted them or do they feel all we did was drive the debt up by another $30 billion and somebody is going to have to pay for that in the future.”
When it comes to whether people in the Elk Valley and the rest of the Kootenay-Columbia will see any direct benefit from the proposed budget, Stetski said it may be too early to tell.
“Certainly the GIS will help seniors and the Canada Child Benefit, that money will be coming to people in the riding as well. In terms of some of the things that are missing, infrastructure is a good example. There is money there, not as much as they initially suggested, how much of that will come to the riding, we don’t know at this point,” he said, adding there is $9 million allocated to repaving part of the TransCanada highway in Yoho National Park, which will benefit constituents in that area.
“It will certainly benefit our constituents using that highway, but it would be great if it would also benefit the businesses out of our riding.”
As the Parks Critic in the NDP shadow cabinet, Stetski says he is happy with the government’s decision to waive the entry fee to all national parks in 2017, in honour of Canada’s 150th birthday.
There is money in the budget to support this initiative, meaning Parks Canada won’t have to lose funds or resources because of it.