Union and labour leaders in P.E.I. gathered Tuesday in Charlottetown to watch television coverage of the federal budget. From left, Dawn Hardy, president of the area council for PSAC, Carl Pursey, president of the P.E.I. Federation of Labour and Debbie Buell, national vice president for the Union of Veteran’s Affairs Employees for the Charlottetown headquarters.
P.E.I. Finance Minister Wes Sheridan says he is concerned over unilateral changes made in the last two federal budgets that could have major impacts on the province’s finances.
Sheridan was particularly alarmed over an announcement in the 2014 federal budget Tuesday that the current immigrant investor program will end immediately and be replaced with a new pilot project.
While it is not known whether this will affect the federal or provincial immigrant investor program, the fact this major change was made with no prior consultation with the provinces doesn’t sit well with P.E.I.’s finance minister.
“These are some of the decisions that will impact my ability to balance,” Sheridan told reporters Tuesday evening.
“When you impact something as large as an immigrant investor fund that affects my bottom line without any kind of consultation, it’s impactful and it’s hurtful and it makes you wonder what type of government would do this without any type of pre-knowledge or consultation?”
He pointed also to changes in labour market agreements being negotiated as part of the Canada Jobs Grant, another major shift announced in last year’s budget.
Details of this new jobs program are still not yet known, nor are provinces and municipalities aware of exactly how the 2014 infrastructure fund, also announced last year, will roll out.
“These are the types of programs that we have to have a little bit of input on,” he said.
“Our concern is that, in their attempt to find positive measures, they are finding the initiatives and the funding within provincial jurisdiction.”
Other measures announced in Tuesday’s budget have union and labour groups in P.E.I. concerned, especially in how they will affect public services.
Debbie Buell, national vice president for the Union of Veteran’s Affairs Employees for the Charlottetown headquarters said she was disappointed there was no reversal of the recent closure of eight Veterans Affairs district offices, including the one in Prince Edward Island.
“The reaction from all the veterans I have spoken to is very sad. They feel betrayed, they feel that the way that (government) is going forward isn’t the same and they aren’t going to have that same level of service,” Buell said.
Dawn Hardy, president of the area council for the Public Service Alliance of Canada, agreed, pointing an announcement in Tuesday’s budget that eligibility for the veterans’ funeral and burial program will be expanded.
“They gave more money to veterans to pay the cost of funerals, which is a bit alarming, because what they need to is to have access to public services and to be able to speak to someone,” Hardy said.
“Giving them more money for their funeral kind of defeats the purpose.”
Hardy said she feels the unionized federal workers have been targeted by the Harper government over the last several budget cycles.
But with the closure of offices and the loss of federal jobs comes a diminishing of public services, she said.
“Public servants do all kinds of things for us, and if we don’t have a viable public service, things that we’re used to now like our health care, our schooling, all of that will disintegrate,” Hardy said.
“Federal public servants, we do a lot for our communities.”
But Fisheries Minister Gail Shea said government’s priority is to provide services to Canadians as efficiently and effectively as possible.
“We cannot keep jobs just for the sake of keeping jobs,” she said.
“Having a government job is not an economic development measure. So, we’ve had to make some really tough decisions, but we also have to balance the budget and work in the best interest of all Canadian taxpayers… As leaders of the country, and that’s why you elect politicians, you have to ensure that the money is spent in the best way possible for the greater good of the country.”
Shea felt the budget was a sensible one. She listed a number of initiatives that will be positive for the Island, including funding for small craft harbours; a recreational fish habitat program; two-year funding for the Wood Islands and Souris ferry service and money dedicated to addressing prescription drug abuse.