Comfortable voting against the budget

Last week, the federal budget cleared its final hurdle in Parliament—and the Harper government, with the support of the Liberal caucus, continues to implement its misguided, deficit-laden agenda.
I’m not sure defeating the government and having an election was the answer to the problems contained in the budget. But the Liberals at least could have moved an amendment and negotiated on the budget contents like New Democrats have done in the past, especially if they knew they were going to pass it all along.
I felt very comfortable heading into the confidence votes last week given the consultations and discussions that were held at the three town halls I hosted across the riding last weekend.
The people who showed up at our meetings in Fort Frances, Atikokan, and Thunder Bay all expressed their dissatisfaction with the budget, which they thought didn’t meet their needs or address the issues they are most concerned about.
Pension security was the number-one concern of people attending our meetings, and it was disappointing to have to inform people there was nothing in the budget to address that issue.
The budget made vague references to helping secure pensions in “federally-regulated” industries, but there are very few people who would benefit from this action.
In fact, I think the inclusion of that point was a polite way of telling AbitibiBowater and Nortel workers that they are out of luck with this government, which, of course, is a major problem for the families in our riding.
The Conservatives would never admit it, but the truth is that once any company enters bankruptcy protection or undertakes supervised restructuring, it automatically enters federal jurisdiction since the bankruptcy laws in question are passed and enforced by the federal government.
Since the Conservative government has failed again to step up and take responsibility for protecting the pensions of people in Thunder Bay-Rainy River, New Democrats will.
More details on our plan will be coming in the next few weeks.
Another prominent issue that arose during our town hall discussions, not surprisingly, was the inclusion of the Harmonized Sales Tax (HST) in the text of the budget document.
On Page 182 of the budget, the Conservative government re-commits to helping Ontario and British Columbia implement the HST by passing along huge incentive payments to these provinces.
The budget confirmed that $4.3 billion of our federal tax money, collected, in part, through the GST, is being used to promote, encourage, and enable an eight percent provincial sales tax increase on many essential items like gasoline, hydro, cable, Internet, and snow removal.
For those of you not following the HST issue, the NDP is the only party that opposes the HST at the federal and provincial level, and the people who attended our meetings thought we must continue our opposition with a vote against the budget.
We did.
Finally, one last item that arose at our meetings was that of the increasing rate of poverty in Northwestern Ontario, and specifically of poverty among seniors.
I had heard from people and groups in Ottawa about this growing problem, but it really hits homes when people in your community take the time to come out to a public meeting and tell you face-to-face about their struggles.
Unfortunately, the only time and space dedicated to seniors’ poverty in the budget document was used to say that the government was doing enough.
The people in our riding are telling me the opposite, so I took their side and disagreed with the assertion made by the Conservative government in its budget by voting against the document.
These are the real problems facing our riding: pension security, the implementation of the HST, and seniors’ poverty.
There are others, and I am sure people will fill out our budget survey and raise these issues in other ways, but I am making three main issues raised at our town halls the focus of my work in Ottawa over the medium term.
I’m happy to report that my work on these three main issues continued last week when I cast a vote against the bloated and misguided Conservative budget, which clearly failed to address those issues in a way that helps our families and communities in Thunder Bay-Rainy River.

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