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The federal budget falls short of the podium in the eyes of MP Bruce Hyer.
The Green Party deputy leader from Thunder Bay-Superior North had a scathing review for the Conservative’s 2014 financial plan that was released on Tuesday when reached by phone from his Ottawa office.
“There are no gold winners or silver medals in this budget,” Hyer said.
“The economic growth in Canada right now is the lowest it has been since the Great Depression in the 1930’s. Our unemployment rate is above seven per cent and the youth unemployment rate is 14 to 15 per cent and we’re not doing well.”
MP John Rafferty (Thunder Bay-Rainy River) said the budget made it clear the federal government is not concerned about the region.
“Every other region in the country is mentioned in some way, shape or form but northern Ontario is completely forgotten by this government,” he said.
He pointed to the Ring of Fire and the forestry industry as two areas that drew minimal to no attention in the budget.
When presented in the House of Commons, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty described the budget as a “low tax plan” with a goal of achieving a balanced leger in 2015.
This year’s plan is close to balanced with a $2.9 billion deficit over forecasted expenditures of $279.2 billion.
Hyer will only believe talk of a balanced budget when one ends up in the black.
“This Finance Minister has not hit a deficit target he has predicted in six years,” Hyer said. “He hasn’t met a single deficit target and we’ve had six consecutive Conservative deficits.”
Rafferty believes the prioritization of a balanced budget may have been more important than services such as the Veterans Affairs offices that were closed last month.
“It was billed as the do-nothing budget and that’s exactly what we got. It was pretty disappointing all around,” Rafferty said.
“They’re clearly looking to the next budget in 2015 before the election."
Hyer listed a number of items absent from the budget that he believes would be beneficial to the region.
One of the most significant was nothing to provide alternatives to hospital care that would alleviate the often gridlocked Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre, which has seen more than 40 days of over-capacity conditions.
“We have a regional health sciences centre that has broken a record for being over-capacity for well over a month and is in gridlock but there’s nothing for home care or community health care, new beds or senior care,” Hyer said.
In terms of infrastructure, Rafferty is hopeful some federal money will find its way to the region, where there is no shortage of projects looking for funding.
“We have a number of asks out from Northern Ontario and there are more asks coming,” he said.
Earlier Tuesday Rafferty delivered a letter to Transport Minister Lisa Raitt in regards to the James Street swing bridge and outlined the importance of the link to the Fort William First Nation to Thunder Bay.
However, Hyer did see some positives and awarded what he described as “mediocre bronze medals.”
One of those was the one-year extension of the 15 per cent Mineral Exploration Tax Credit, a program that Hyer would like to see continue longer into the future.
However, he said that was the lone item that jumped out during his preliminary budget examination that could be beneficial to the Ring of Fire.
While Hyer was supportive of the introduced Canada Apprentice Loan, he said he $100 million for 1,000 apprentices is not enough of an investment.
Rafferty said while he supports the expansion of rural and northern internet services, he’s not holding his breath that it will actually happen in the region.
There was a little bit more optimism locally.
From what she’s seen so far, Thunder Bay Chamber of Commerce president Charla Robinson said there are some positives in the federal budget.
Facing a skills shortage, she’s hoping local businesses take advantage of the Canada Job Grant program, which was announced last budget but the federal government says it will now go it alone if the provinces don’t contribute. Expanding the student loan program to include apprenticeships will also help train the workforce, which will help business in the region but the entire community at large.
“That’s a good thing,” Robinson said.
The Building Canada Fund is also a positive as it helps municipal infrastructure, which in turn helps local business. Robinson said she’s also encouraged to see a commitment to expand broadband Internet access into rural areas.
The chamber will be looking for details in the budget over the coming days to see how it will impact the business community, Robinson said.
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