Budget rife with too many glaring failures

Last week was one those dramatic weeks in Ottawa—and it was one that will affect the lives of each and every resident of Thunder Bay-Rainy River for years to come.
I chose not to support the federal budget because it failed to properly address the forestry industry crisis, it did nothing to make Employment Insurance more accessible for workers that have—and will lose—their jobs during this economic crisis, and it did not adequately respond to the needs of our riding as expressed by you during my cross-riding consultations.
Forestry is an $80-billion-a-year industry in Canada that directly and indirectly employs more than 850,000 Canadians. This industry has been in a five-year recession which has seen 38,428 job losses in just 200 forestry communities.
The industry has been devastated compared to other major industries in Canada, and our forestry families need help. Yet in this budget, despite an $84-billion deficit over the next two years and the importance of this industry to Canada’s rural economy, just $170 million of direct assistance was offered.
The Forestry Producers Association of Canada offered its support for the budget because it got money for marketing and research, but I cannot support it because it offers next to nothing to help families affected the crisis.
It did offer a $1-billion “Community Adjustment Fund,” but forestry communities will have to get in line behind others that are suffering from mine closures, fishery collapses, and manufacturing closures.
For comparison sake, the auto industry is getting about $22 billion and more (from our governments and those in the United States) for communities and workers affected by that industry slowdown, so I think our forestry communities and families should get more funds to help us get through the downturn.
Another glaring failure of this budget was a failure to make Employment Insurance more accessible to workers and their families who lose their job during what promises to be a long and painful economic downturn. Knowing there will be hundreds of thousands of job losses, the Conservative government and Liberal Opposition did not feel EI reform was a priority.
They know 27 percent of workers who pay into the fund cannot draw from it, and that the EI fund has a $54-billion surplus.
Either, or both, of those parties that are voting to pass the budget could have included—or demanded—some of that $54 billion be made available to workers, or to make it easier to qualify for EI assistance. It wouldn’t even have added a dollar to the massive budget deficit since the EI fund is a standalone fund that only can used for that purpose.
I would oppose the budget for this reason alone but, as I mentioned, there were are many more deficiencies in the document.
In the end, the most important test this budget failed was that it simply did not act on the priorities of our riding. You told me our riding needed more infrastructure investment including, but not limited to, speeding up the funding for existing applications such as the Emo abattoir, the restoration of rail lines and VIA rail service to Thunder Bay, and the twinning of the Trans-Canada highway from Manitoba to Thunder Bay.
Some of these priorities may be acted on if this budget is implemented, but some will not—and the ones that do will be underfunded as is the case with the $2 billion allotted for housing across Canada, including units in Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal, Calgary, Hamilton, Halifax, etc.
The money in the budget for First Nations’ infrastructure was needed, and I was happy to see it included, but on the issue of rural health care provision, there is little to improve access to family doctors, physiotherapy, mental health facilities, and emergency care.
As I noted in my speech last week in the House of Commons, this budget document simply does not reflect the needs and priorities of our riding.
While the progressive Liberal-New Democrat coalition government was a good one, and would have ensured the needs of our riding were given more attention at the federal level, the concept is, for all intents and purposes, dead. It was, however, a great democratic exercise and forced the Conservatives to take the economic downturn seriously, which they had not done prior to the threat of parliamentary defeat.
I must say that during the last six weeks, I had the opportunity to meet and work in common cause with a lot of great people in the riding–Liberal, Green, progressive, and independent alike.
To all of you, please accept my sincerest thanks for all of your work and support for this effort, and please stay in touch now and in the future.

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