Throne speech fails to deliver for region

The House of Commons finally resumed sitting last week after a long and an unnecessary prorogation layoff, and as always, the first week back is the busiest and most important of the parliamentary calendar.
Two events dominated this first week: the speech from the throne and the presentation of the federal budget for 2010-11.
In both cases, the government spectacularly failed Northwestern Ontario and demonstrated it simply does not understand the needs of our region, our economy, and our families.
As is customary in the first week during a new session of Parliament, the government delivered its speech from the throne, which sets out in broad strokes what it sees as its legislative agenda for the session.
I had quite high expectations for this year’s speech given it was rumoured to be one hour long, focused on the economy, and the product of many weeks’ work over the extended prorogation period.
Unfortunately, for the people of Northwestern Ontario, this speech was a huge disappointment.
The throne speech was disappointing because it contained 6,000 words and focused on the economy, but the Conservative government could muster just 26 recycled words to describe what it plans to do to assist the forestry sector—and literally made no mention of the economic problems facing rural and northern communities during this deep recession.
Despite the shortcomings in the speech from the throne, the problems I have with the federal budget are far more serious because that document is the government’s plan in detail for the next fiscal year the nuts and bolts of their agenda, if you will.
This budget confirmed, again, that the government’s ongoing neglect of the forestry sector and northern communities will continue. But it also took the added step of confirming the federal Conservative Party’s support for the HST, which is nothing more than an attack on families, especially against those living in northern and rural communities.
The money allocated in the budget to forestry alone—that is money which is not “packaged” with assistance for other sectors of the economy (i.e., agriculture, fisheries, etc.)—was just $100 million spread out over four years.
The forestry sector is the largest employer in Canada, and has seen 60,000 job losses in just the last three years. But in a $300-billion budget that includes a $54-billion deficit, the industry effectively is getting nothing.
As for assisting northern communities, there was not even a single reference to the Federal Economic Development Initiative of Northern Ontario (FedNor) in the budget, but entire sections devoted to the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA), the Canada Economic Development for Quebec Regions (CEDQ), the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario (FedDev), the Eastern Ontario Development Program, and the Western Economic Diversification Canada (WED).
That’s right. Alberta is sitting on one of the world’s largest proven oil reserves and they are getting money to “diversify” their economy away from fossil fuels while Northern Ontario has lost 20,000 jobs in the last three years and is not even mentioned.
As if completely ignoring the forestry sector and not even mentioning Northern Ontario or FedNor in the budget weren’t bad enough, the federal budget also confirmed the Conservative government’s plan to fund the introduction of the HST in Ontario.
On page 182, in black and white, is the government’s decision to make “direct transfers” to the governments of Ontario and British Columbia to support the introduction of the HST in those provinces.
If introducing the HST is a “provincial choice” as Mr. Flaherty has suggested, then why is this $3-billion transfer in his federal budget?
With this speech from the throne and federal budget, the Conservative government completely has abandoned our forestry sector, wiped Northern Ontario off of their economic development map, and is bankrolling an eight percent tax increase on our struggling families.
I committed to hearing your opinion on the budget at last week’s town hall meetings in Fort Frances, Atikokan, and Thunder Bay, but I am extremely disappointed in what I heard in the speech from the throne and have read thus far in the budget.
I don’t see how I can support the federal budget in its current form, but perhaps you can tell me what reason, if any, exists that could compel me to reconsider my opposition.
The budget votes are up this week, so please take a moment soon to tell me what you think (thoughts and opinions can be e-mailed to raffej0@parl.gc.ca).

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