The federal government announced its 2014 budget on Tuesday, sending politicians and pundits of all stripes into spin mode.
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Prince Albert MP Randy Hoback
Despite a number of new measures, both supporters and critics of the budget have noted a lack of major new spending initiatives.
For Prince Albert MP Randy Hoback, the budget reaffirmed the Conservative Party’s focus on pocketbook issues and fiscal responsibility.
“It’s not a budget where there’s huge spending increases,” Hoback said. “It’s not a budget where there’s all sorts of treats and trinkets in it. It’s a fairly basic budget. It’s a budget I think Canadians will respect.
“I think Canadians have looked at it, especially constituents out of Prince Albert, and said, ‘You know, governments have to keep their books in order. We don’t want to see a situation where we’re downloading debt and deficits to our kids,’ and this budget’s part of the pathway there to be balanced.”
Hoback highlighted the government’s success in dramatically reducing the federal deficit from approximately $37 billion in 2008 to $2.9 billion today.
“Next year not only will we have a balanced budget, we’ll have a surplus for sure -- and we’ve done that without cutting transfer payments to the provinces or without gutting our health care system,” he said.
By contrast, Saskatchewan Federation of Labour (SFL) president Larry Hubich saw the lack of major initiatives to address issued faced by Canadian workers as a significant weakness of the budget.
“We’re not particularly impressed with it,” Hubich said.
“All the political pundits are describing it as a ‘do-nothing’ budget … It pretty much does nothing except continue down the path of implementing the cuts that were announced in previous years. It comes up far short of what we think the federal government should be doing instead of doing nothing.”
Hubich strongly criticized the government for cutting corporate taxes on the basis that it would create jobs, but without any attached conditions.
With those jobs failing to materialize, he argued for the rollback of tax breaks for Canadian corporations, which he pointed out are sitting on approximately $500 billion.
“That’s a lot of money that could be invested back into our economy,” Hubich said.
“Instead of sitting in the banks of corporations doing nothing and being described as ‘dead money’, we could be training a lot of people with that money. We could be investing in our infrastructure.
“Corporations should be paying their fair share, and they’re not in this country,” he added. “They’ve got a free ride, and it’s time that they started to contribute to our economy and to our society in a real way.”
But Hoback dismissed the SFL president’s criticisms.
“I’m not surprised,” he said. “They’re just an arm’s length branch of the NDP party, so that’s who they are.”
Countering perceptions of a “do-nothing” budget, he highlighted new initiatives such as the creation of the Canada Apprentice Loan, which provides apprentices in Red Seal trades access to over $100 million in interest-free loans each year.
“That’s a big deal for students that are going through to try to get to the level of journeyman status,” Hoback said. “That’s huge.”
Hubich, however, questioned the wisdom of allowing students to take on more debt, arguing that there are better ways to help cover training costs.
“Instead of giving corporations multi-million dollar tax breaks, how about insisting that those corporations invest those multi-million dollar tax breaks that they receive from the federal government to train apprentices?” he asked.
It’s not a budget where there’s huge spending increases. It’s not a budget where there’s all sorts of treats and trinkets in it. It’s a fairly basic budget. It’s a budget I think Canadians will respect. MP Randy Hoback
“Then we don’t need to have workers come out of the other end of their schooling with a student loan the size of a mortgage.”
Yet Hoback pointed to a range of other employment-oriented programs in the budget.
Aside from a job matching service to link employers with Canadians looking for work, the budget invests $55 million in paid internships for recent graduates and $75 million in a targeted initiative to help older workers re-enter the job market.
Explaining why the government tended to invest in training rather than directly hiring workers, Hoback said it is the private sector that creates economic growth.
“We’ve got a private sector out there screaming for people, screaming for certain skill sets, and we’ve got youth sitting there looking to get a job,” he said. “So the trick is to get the youth the proper skill sets so that the private sector can employ them.”
In line with the philosophy of encouraging private sector investment, the federal budget will cut 800,000 payroll remittances for 50,000 small businesses.
Where public investment is concerned, the budget includes investments in Canada’s national parks and historic canals as well as $1.5 billion over the next decade in university research through the Canada First Research Excellence Fund.
The budget further establishes a $200 million National Disaster Mitigation Program to help communities prepare for natural disasters. Hoback noted the Buckland Fire Department had expressed interest in such assistance.
While efforts to improve broadband in rural and remote communities will not greatly affect the Prince Albert riding, Hoback expressed hope that they would help towns such as Nipawin, Birch Hills, Kinistino and Weldon increase the speed of their Internet to levels comparable to P.A. and Saskatoon.
Among the budget items touted to help support families, he highlighted “tax relief” for health-related services and families adopting children, as well as the capping of wholesale wireless rates to improve affordability.
While the budget does not include any specific regional initiatives, Hoback noted that federal government transfers to Saskatchewan this year will total $1.4 billion.
“Comparing it to when the Liberals were in power, that’s a 31 per cent increase,” he said.
“That’s huge. So we’ve been consistently transferring more and more dollars every year to the province of Saskatchewan.”
The government’s overall focus on balancing the budget, Hoback said, reflected the concerns of constituents.
“I think a lot of Canadians were telling us, ‘We can’t live with deficits year after year after year. We don’t want to go back to the history we had in the ’70s and early ’80s.’ We need to get back to a situation where government spends what it takes in and not by increasing taxes, but doing it in an efficient manner and providing services in an efficient manner -- which I think we’re doing,” Hoback said.
“We’ve been very aggressive on that, looking at ways not only to provide better services, but do it in a manner that actually reduces costs … We’ve been able to cut those costs and the benefit goes to families and taxpayers, because they don’t have increased taxes.”