Much of the money promised in the Liberals’ federal budget is really just window dressing, according Richard Cannings, NDP MP for the South Okanagan-West Kootenay riding.
While he concedes some headway has been made, such as funds earmarked for senior’s affordable housing, the budget made few inroads in helping those living in rural B.C.
He points to the lack of broadband Internet outside larger centres, as an example.
“After promising to invest $500 million right up front for rural broadband services, the budget only gave $6 million,” Cannings told the Trail Times. “The $500 million is there, but it’s back loaded mainly to the fourth and fifth years, after the next election,” he began. “That’s a recurring theme throughout the budget, a lot of these funding programs are over five, some over 10, years and the big part of the money is to be spent after the next election – and it’s that way with broadband.”
The subject hits home with Cannings because he says many young couples seeking life outside of urban settings are often employed in the high tech industry, so broadband accessibility is key in attracting newcomers to the region.
“My neighbours are a young couple from the coast who just moved to Penticton,” he said. “He builds apps for smartphones, and can do that because we do have broadband there. But if he went 20 miles further, he wouldn’t be able to, so this certainly affects the riding and big parts of B.C.”
Overall, the budget represents missed opportunities for the South Okanagan-West Kootenay, Cannings said.
“They didn’t mention anything about Canada Post,” he explained. “Right now they’ve put a moratorium on cutting back door-to-door service and as far as I know there hasn’t been cuts in any of the region yet. But still, there is nothing in there than mentions what they are going to do about this in the future.”
Money allocated for health care and for the senior sector in general is also absent, he continued.
“There’s no mention in the budget of additional funds for health care of any sort,” Cannings said. “And no mention of homecare in particular, after promising $3 billion over the next four years to keep seniors in their homes, instead of institutions.”
He acknowledged a GIS (Guaranteed Income Supplement) increase for single seniors is somewhat beneficial, but maintains $3.4 billion used to feed the program over five years is a short sighted move.
“Sure if you are a senior living in poverty, you’ll get (up to) an extra $947 a year, that’s if you qualify,” Cannings said. “We think that’s nice but it’s not going to lift any senior out of poverty.”
Cannings conceded a bump in federal funding for seniors’ affordable housing is welcome news in his constituency, but he also questions its efficacy.
“A group in Slocan, for instance, is trying to get a senior’s housing project built and hopefully we can access money there, so that’s a good thing,” he said. “But a much bigger pot of money is for affordable housing (in general) that is again back loaded and has to be done in partnerships with the provinces and municipalities.”
The new financing model could be an impediment to accessing federal dollars, he clarified.
“To me that sounds like they’ll want private partnerships involved, so that will slow things down and a lot of that money may not be spent if the provinces and municipalities cannot come up with (their share). So that’s a concern.”
The budget failed to hit on economic disparity entirely, says Cannings, which is another fail for the SOWK riding.
“This was an opportunity to turn that around and I think they missed that opportunity with the tax measures they brought in,” he reiterated.
“The thing about the middle class is that everyone thinks they are part of it. But the tax measures they say will help middle class really help people more in the $100,000 to $200,000 bracket, and certainly doesn’t help anybody making less than $45,000 a year,” added Cannings. “This isn’t a budget that helps the lower income Canadians at all.”
Finally, the MP noted the lack of a break for small business, a sector that employs about 54 per cent of the local working body. (small business employs one million people province-wide)
“They pledged to go along with the Conservatives and NDP who wanted to lower the small business income tax to nine per cent,” he said, clarifying the rate would remain at 10.5 per cent.
“If they really wanted to stimulate the economy and get jobs going that would be one of the best ways,” Cannings concluded. “So again, we just think this budget is a missed opportunity.”