On paper, annual budgets appear black and white. But what the numbers really reflect are choices based on underlying philosophies of whomever is in power.
That’s very apparent after the three South Okanagan-West Kootenay (SOWK) MP candidates weighed in on the latest federal budget tabled by Finance Minister Joe Oliver Tuesday afternoon.
There’s a few highlights, regardless the party, that are positives for all Canadians, including extending compassionate care benefits from six weeks to six months and relaxing rules governing registered retirement income funds.
On matters like the absence of climate change funding versus billions earmarked for counter-terrorism efforts, or the benefits of income-splitting and increases to tax free savings accounts, there’s a wide divide between SOWK politicians Richard Cannings, NDP, the Liberal Party’s Connie Denesiuk and Conservative Marshall Neufeld.
“There is nothing in the budget for climate change and that’s my big concern,” said Cannings, an Okanagan-based biologist. “To me, that’s shameful and embarrassing. We are the pariah of the world when it comes to action on climate change and have a big meeting in Paris later this year,” he said, referring to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. “We will be embarrassed again if this is all we have to report.”
The budget is short sighted with no vision, says Cannings, because billions are invested into oil and gas industries instead of renewable resources, which would create new jobs outside of northern Alberta.
“This budget is just throwing baubles and trinkets at voters to get them on their side, and to me that’s cynical.”
He says the focus on bumping up military spending such as a $360 million mission against ISIS, $293 million for police, border services and Canadian Security Intelligence Service plus another $118 million to fight cyber attacks, is misguided.
“Their initiatives on counter terrorism will only affect us in very negative ways, and we are very much fighting Bill C-51.
“This will do nothing to make us safer, we really don’t need it, because we have good anti-terrorist legislation that was brought in after 9/11.”
Liberal Denesiuk says the budget is a cosmetic balance at the expense of long term planning for most Canadians.
“In my view it doesn’t meet the pressing needs that I have found as I’ve listened to people throughout our riding,” she said. “Of course safety is important to all of Canada but they are going about it the wrong way.”
She said the Harper government has created much hype based on promoting fear, which places the Prime Minister as a “tough leader.”
“It takes a lot more skill to be diplomatic and intelligent that it does to poke at bears,” Denesiuk continued. “I think people, especially young people in our country, want to see Canada return to a nation that brokers peace.”
Conservative candidate Marshall Neufeld, says the budget discussion will resonate well with people in the riding, and he looks forward to talking about it and more, as he knocks on West Kootenay doors.
“I really like that national defence is being increased to $11.8 billion over 10 years,” he said. “It’s still two years away, but the military can use the increase for whatever procurements are their priorities.”
While he acknowledged the lack of funding for climate change action, Neufeld referred to a $252 million in environmental initiatives the Conservatives committed in the 2014 budget.
Another contentious issue between SOWK candidates is income splitting, which is a tax incentive that was revealed prior to the budget.
Income splitting is designed to shift income from a taxpayer paying a high rate of tax to another taxpayer within the family unit paying tax at a lower rate.
Cannings says only top income earners, or 15 per cent of Canadians will benefit from the plan that he notes will cost the rest of the country $2.5 billion each year.
“The point is, the more you make the better the benefit,” said Cannings. “It disproportionately benefits wealthy Canadians and that means the rest of us are paying for that down the line.”
Denesiuk went one step further, saying the Liberals will reverse the $2 billion income splitting incentive and instead, invest the funds in infrastructure.
“So that translates to jobs in the South Okanagan-West Kootenay riding, and getting goods to and from the market,” she added.
Neufeld, on the other hand, says the “introduction of the family tax cut,” isn’t about how much a person earns, it’s about levelling tax brackets for those with children.
“I feel it’s disingenuous this only benefits the wealthy because there is a $50,000 ceiling,” he explained. “It’s not how much you are earning, it’s fair to most people as long as the couples are in different income tax brackets.”
Another change Neufeld maintains could be beneficial to many, is the increased annual contribution to tax free savings accounts from $5,500 to $10,000.
“This depends on the individual and plans made with a financial advisor,” he explained. “But tax free savings can be a better vehicle for saving for retirement versus RRSPs. Plenty of people use this as a good option for savings, and that’s why it was increased.”
Denesiuk and Cannings oppose the tax break, saying that only wealthy people will benefit.
“Very few can afford to put aside $10,000,” said Cannings. “We need to put more money into the hands of the middle class people so they will spend money in Trail, Penticton and the rest of the country,” he continued. “Tax breaks to the wealthy are put in the bank or used for another vacation to Paris or the Grand Caymans. It’s not going to benefit Canada at all because to get the economy going we need money to be spent in our country.”
According to Denesiuk, the Liberal Party of Canada is not revealing its platform just year, but she said the middle class and infrastructure spending will be “front and centre.”
Current NDP MP Alex Atamanenko, said he was disappointed but not surprised by the Conservative government’s continuing tax breaks for big corporations and Canada’s wealthiest few.
“This budget has nothing that will assist the middle class who are the driving force of our economy,” he stated in a Tuesday news release. “Nor does it assist those falling below the poverty line. It is disheartening to know that very little has been done to help those in need. Instead, this government has deemed it more important to maintain the wealth and income inequality it has established over the last decade on the backs of the middle class.”