Local MPs react to budget announcement

The federal government announced its 2021 budget on Monday. The first budget in two years was heavily anticipated by governments and citizens, awaiting to see how the government plans to bring Canadians out of the economic turmoil of COVID-19.

Some aspects covered by the budget include raising the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour, legislation that will extend the interest on Canada Student Loans and Canada Apprentice Loans until March 31, 2023, new tax on luxury cars, personal aircrafts and boats that will come into play next year and more than $17 billion in climate change programs.

On the budget was also the extension of the Canada Economic Recovery Benefit (CERB) and Canada Recovery Caregiving Benefit (CRCB), $1 billion in tourism and over $6 billion for infrastructure in Indigenous communities, including funding for clean water projects and housing.

The budget covers a variety of sectors, with the promise of $30 billion over five years to create a national child-care system. The investment was the centrepiece of the budget, something the Liberal government has been promising for decades.

The investment would see childcare costs cut by 50 per cent with the goal of reaching $10 a day childcare in 2025 or 2026.

Thunder Bay – Rainy River Liberal MP Marcus Powlowski said this is a good economic investment.

“Getting women who are staying at home looking after their kids back into the workforce is good for the economy and the number of women in the workforce has really dropped,” Powlowski said.

However, Kenora Conservative MP Eric Melillo said he is not convinced that this time is going to be any different in terms of delivery.

“We would have liked to see something that supports the individual families, similarly along the lines of when the Conservatives announced the Canada Child Benefit, which sends the money and funding directly to parents and allows them to make those decisions,” Melillo said.

Powlowski said the Liberals are trying to recover from COVID and get the economy back on track.

“I think the governments realized that as a result of COVID we’ve certainly lost quite a few jobs. A lot of businesses have gone under. Putting money into the economy helps businesses and creates jobs,” Powlowski said. “You have to spend money now to create money later.”

While some are hopeful that the large amount of funding will stimulate the economy, Melillo said it is reckless spending without a plan to get the economy back on track.

“My initial reaction from a high level is that it’s a lot of spending. One hundred and fifty billion deficit this year, and there’s no plan in the foreseeable future to get back to balance with a plan to get our economy back on track,” Melillo said. “We’re looking as well at what all this debt and all this spending means and, in this budget, we’re going to be paying up to $40 billion a year on interest payments alone.”

One aspect of the budget that both Melillo and Powlowski were pleased with was that FedNor will be made a stand-alone regional economic development agency. This will allow FedNor to establish and develop its own programs.

Powlowski said he would have liked to see more funding for the tourism industry but that with FedNor being a stand-alone agency, it will target some of the most severely affected businesses in the tourism industry.

“Hopefully they’ll end up with some more substantial money,” Powlowski said. “I think part of the problem with tourism is that everyone wasn’t equally affected. There are a lot of places in northeastern Ontario that were doing pretty well. Northwestern Ontario was really disproportionately affected.”

Melillo said he is cautiously optimistic about the tourism package.

“I’m happy to see that the funding is there but it’s really about the details of how they plan to roll this out because the government announced a number of different programs that were meant to support tourism businesses last year and we heard from many that they were falling through the cracks,” Melillo said. “They weren’t able to qualify for certain reasons.”

The wage subsidy was extended to Sept. 25. Some businesses, especially those in the tourism industry, say that this is not enough time. Powlowski said extending it means spending more money while Canada’s net debt is already over $1 Trillion.

“I think we want to end these programs as soon as possible. We want to get people back at work and I think you do have to look eventually the bottom line, which is the fact that we are increasing our total national debt and we want to keep that under control. So we don’t want to extend these programs longer than we have to, because they’re certainly costing a lot of money,” Powlowski said.

While Powlowski said the budget is a hopeful start to the country’s recovery, Melillo said he was shocked to see that increasing health transfers to the provinces was missing.

“I can’t think of anything more important than properly funding health care and giving the provinces the resources they need to better support their residents,” Melillo said. “I think it’s a bit of misguided priorities considering we’re nowhere near the end of this pandemic.”