Federal budget irks Skeena-BV MP Cullen

Changes to Gas Tax Fund potentially good news for Smithers

Skeena-Bulkley Valley NDP MP, Nathan Cullen, isn’t impressed with the budget released by the Conservative federal government last week, claiming the federal government is playing the shell game with existing program funding.

For example, Cullen said, money that was going to the provinces for training is being clawed back by the federal government to manage itself as part of the new Canada Jobs Grant which will potentially provide training for up to 130,000 low-skilled workers and Canadians who are ineligible for employment insurance.

Under the Canada Jobs Grant, applicants are eligible to receive $15,000, with $5,000 coming from the federal government, from monies they are clawing back from the provincial job-training program they established in the last budget, with $5,000 coming from employers and $5,000 from the provinces.

“This is strange because it was this Conservative government that gave this money [job training] to the provinces in the first place saying the provinces could do it better.

“We think the provinces have a better sense of the skills needs in the different regions.

“All this budget does is move the money from one pot to the other.”

The move isn’t going to make up for any shortfalls in the demand for skilled workers, Cullen said, especially skilled-labor jobs where proposed projects could lead to a rise by tens of thousands.

Given the focus on job training, it was expected the budget would funnel money into post-secondary institutions such as Northwest Community College that offer training in skilled labour jobs.

“That’s too bad [NWCC didn’t receive additional funding] because the college does great value for money, but it really needs a lot more local [provincial] control,” Cullen said, referring to the federal government’s clawback of job training funds.

Part of the job strategy announced in the budget is a $109 million workfare program directed at aboriginals living on reserves who receive social assistance.

The program is only available to reserve communities agreeing to a mandatory participation policy, including a set of compliance measures.

“What’s frustrating is that we had a decent skills and apprenticeship program that would give First Nations people access to the skilled labour jobs in the resource world,” Cullen said.

“Instead the government’s saying that the problem is First Nations youth and young people in general are just lazy so we’re going to force them into workfare programs.

“No other Canadian has a workfare program imposed upon them.

“That smacks of racism.”

Smithers Mayor, Taylor Bachrach, saw some good news in the federal budget, namely around infrastructure funding.

Of note, Bachrach said, are changes to the Gas Tax Fund which make recreation facilities, such as the proposed second arena, eligible to receive funding.

“They’ve expanded the criteria to include recreation facilities,” Bachrach said.

With plans for a new arena in Smithers, Bachrach said the new criteria would make it easier to raise funds for recreation facilities which are typically difficult to fund.

Another welcome part of the budget, for the Canadian Federation of Municipalities, including Smithers is a $47 billion infrastructure program with a 10-year run.

“It falls within the need for long-term planning,” Bachrach said.

But, Bachrach also added, the amount falls short of what Canadian municipalities really need to tend to their infrastructure needs.

Cullen agreed, noting the infrastructure monies promised in the budget would barely make a dent in the more than $200 billion municipalities across Canada need to make upgrades to their aging infrastructure, from buildings to sewers and roads.

Cullen also noted the funding was already in place and the amount promised didn’t take one important factor into consideration.

“They don’t account for inflation over the 10 years, they’re pretending there’s going to be no inflation for the next decade ,” Cullen said.

“Even considering a low increase in inflation, the cost to the infrastructure program would be $5 billion.”

 

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