Long-term interests being sold out

Each year, the budget process at the federal level consists of two very different parts: the budget speech and the budget bill.
One is the propaganda and one is the nuts and bolts.
We’ve already heard the propaganda portion, and we now are debating the nuts and bolts: Bill C-9.
As we move from examining the propaganda to the nuts and bolts, we see the Conservative government continues to sell out our long-term interests for questionable short-term gains.
I was not surprised to see many items in Bill C-9—the HST payment to McGuinty’s Liberals, a freeze in MP salaries and office budgets, and huge corporate tax cuts—all were there as expected.
But buried deep in the 904 pages of legal jargon that is C-9, there also are provisions that eliminate the need for environmental assessments for stimulus projects, enable the sale of Crown assets like Atomic Energy Canada Limited (AECL), and increases in the export tariff penalty for Canadian forestry producers.
Given that we are blessed with a beautiful and relatively pristine natural environment in Northwestern Ontario, I am very concerned by the fact that environmental assessments no longer will need to be completed before infrastructure stimulus projects get underway.
While the Canadian economy is in desperate need of public investment, and we are in desperate need of new roads and highways throughout our region, I would rather have a month or two delay in these projects so as to ensure they comply with existing environmental regulations and do not have negative long-term effects on our natural environment, which many families in our region depend upon for their economic well-being.
Just as it doesn’t make sense to cancel environmental assessments in the name of short-term economic stimulus, it also makes little sense to sell off profitable Crown assets when we are facing many years of large fiscal deficits.
In the case of AECL, Bill C-9 lays the groundwork for the selling off of particular assets or of the company as a whole—even though the company is one of the world’s largest producers of nuclear technology and brings in millions of dollars each year through the sale and licensing of its cutting-edge technology.
Wouldn’t it make more sense to halt the $100-million ad campaign the Conservatives are using to promote their budget or reduce the $60 billion in corporate tax cuts before selling off a proven long-term money-maker?
I think the answer is obvious, but this government has never shown an ability to look beyond the next poll in its decision-making.
Perhaps the most troubling “detail” contained in the fine print of Bill C-9 is the acceptance and enforcement of a London Court of International Arbitration Tribunal ruling that said Canadian forestry companies owe $68 million to their U.S. counterpart due to an unintentional violation of the Softwood Lumber Agreement.
To comply with this ruling, the Conservative government included a provision in C-9 that increases the export tariff on softwood lumber products from Ontario, Quebec, Manitoba, or Saskatchewan by 10 percent, effective immediately.
When one subtracts the paltry $25 million in new forestry sector investment that also is contained in the budget, then Canada’s forestry sector actually will be forced to payout $43 million in new taxes and tariffs this year—just as it begins to emerge from a catastrophic decade-long downturn.
By eliminating the need for environmental assessments on large infrastructure projects, selling off profitable assets while running massive long-term deficits, and taking money out of the pockets of our struggling forestry sector, Bill C-9 surely will go down as one of the most short-sighted and misguided budget documents ever brought before the House of Commons.
Should the Liberals and Conservative band together to pass this bill, as they did with the HST, then both parties must share the blame for the substantial damage it likely is to cause to the long-term economic and environmental interests of our region.

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