Federal finance minister too cautious in spreading good cheer for country
© Canadian Press photo
Minister of Finance Jim Flaherty speaks at to reporters following a post-budget event in Ottawa on Wednesday, Feb. 12.
It’s not often that any finance minister will try and camouflage a balanced budget while preferring to take credit for a small deficit. A sheepish Jim Flaherty did his best Tuesday to convince Canadians this was the case but really fooled no one. This budget is, for all intents and purposes, balanced.
The federal finance minister prefers to speak those sacred words next year, an election year. He would prefer to save tax breaks and other good news until February 2015 which would be the effective launch of the federal Conservatives re-election campaign for the October vote. He is doing it because he can and because it’s smart politics.
The budget, as Mr. Flaherty predicted, was stay the course, with a few tax breaks, a few tax grabs, a few deferrals and a few ruffled feathers. No matter which way you analyze the document, it’s neutral and overall, a good news budget for the country.
It was widely suggested Mr. Flaherty was trying his best to hide a do-nothing budget behind the screen of the national interest in the Winter Olympics. Maybe the fervent thanks coming from the Canadian Olympic Association for its increased federal funding, with our medal count at 10 and counting, might be a better explanation of the minister’s crafty timing.
The deferring of $4 billion for military procurements is bad news for Georgetown Shipyards as the naval program keeps getting pushed back. The tax grab on the health benefit plan for retired federal civil servants is worrisome. These retirees paid into a plan in good faith and retired with that health plan as a security. Government retroactively changing the rules has to stop.
P.E.I. Finance Minister Wes Sheridan is upset with two unilateral moves by Ottawa, especially with dramatic changes to the immigrant investor program. Ottawa is ending it immediately and replacing it with a ‘pilot project.’ Ottawa seems intent on trying to re-invent the wheel because a PNP program has been in place for almost 20 years on P.E.I. and has proven to be of great benefit. It’s well past the time of a pilot project.
It’s also troubling to hear Mr. Sheridan say the immigrant program plays a pivotal role in the province being able to balance its books. If the province has to depend on the success or failure of an immigrant investment program for its fiscal balance, things are in worse shape here than first thought.
Mr. Sheridan does have a good point about the lack of consultation from Mr. Flaherty. There should be discussions with the province on this ‘pilot’ program and how it can be best tailored to suit newcomers and P.E.I.
The other issue is Ottawa’s proclamation that a Canada Jobs Grant program will launch April 1. The matter was in the budget last year but the provinces opposed Ottawa’s changes and negotiations went nowhere for months, even though the federal government spent millions advertising it. Employment Minister Jason Kenney seemed willing to compromise following recent meetings and now we have this.
Other good news for P.E.I. is secure funding for Northumberland Ferries for two years, although five years or more would be much preferable. There was little information on how the infrastructure program will roll out, a matter of vital concern for municipalities across P.E.I.
And Ottawa continues to fumble the veterans’ file as eight district offices will remain closed, including Charlottetown, while the budget offers more help with veterans’ funeral and burial expenses. It’s unfortunate veterans can’t get more help while they can still use it.