Mixed reaction toward federal budget in western Newfoundland

Cory Hurley
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Corner Brook Board of Trade president Matthew Connolly takes notes while watching coverage of the 2014 federal budget in Ottawa Tuesday.

CORNER BROOK  Matthew Connolly wears at least a couple of hats in representing the people of western Newfoundland, but no matter which one he put on to review the federal budget, he was not happy.

Connolly is a veteran and president of the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 13, and has been front and centre in the protests over the closure of regional Veterans Affairs offices — one of which was in Corner Brook.

Right to the very end, veterans across the country fought to keep the offices from closing. They were still hoping to see a reversal of this decision, but the budget Tuesday contained no suggestion that would happen.

“When they turn around and say they are going to put $2 million into the veterans online system and did nothing about the offices, which was the issue and concern, that was a joke,” Connolly said from his home via telephone.

“I was really ticked off about that.”

The budget also outlined a delay in about $3 billion in planned capital spending for the Canadian military. Connolly said the military is “taking a beating,” which he said “hurts.”

Related: Budget squeeze continues, but federal deficit all but gone this year

There were a few positives in the budget in relation to business, which Connolly felt would benefit the industry and economy — namely education and training assistance, and no new taxes is a positive.

However, he said some of the initiatives were misguided.

“I am all for anybody coming to this country, and welcoming you to our country, but they said they are putting $11 million towards the foreign workers program,” he said. “How about the workers we have in the country that have issues and needs and concerns. I am not against them helping them, but we do have people here that need some assistance and help too.”

Gerry Byrne, Liberal Commons member for Humber-St. Barbe-Baie Verte was, not surprisingly, even more critical of Finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s 10th budget. He said it was no wonder why they chose to bring it down while the Olympics were happening — hoping the media and people of the country were not paying attention.

“In terms of touching on things that really mattered to Canadians, this budget could have been given at four o’clock in the morning,” he said. “It would not have disguised what is not in it any more.”

Byrne said people wanted to see significant increases for the public health care system, education, municipal infrastructure, and support for veterans.

“This budget had nothing,” he said. “It did not say the words health care once. It did not say post-secondary education once. It did not talk about infrastructure unless you live in the city of Montreal or commute through the Detroit-Windsor tunnel.”

The small incentives and program initiatives that were there were a result of re-allocated funding, according to Byrne. He said this budget revealed that more cuts to existing programs and services can be expected.

Less critical reactions

Corner Brook Mayor Charles Pender was less critical of the budget, but said he did not see a lot that stood out. He said there seems to be a lot of little things within the budget, which could lead to a significant impact on smaller cities like Corner Brook.

The mayor said it is up to municipalities to look within the particular items of a budget to find what is beneficial to them. He said investment to youth employment could prove valuable for summer jobs, while spending in the federal infrastructure program could be crucial in provincial and municipal partnerships.

“There’s always things hidden in the budget, sometimes it is our job to go through it and find those little areas of interest that we might be able to benefit from,” Pender said. “It really does not take a big lot of money to make a major difference to a small community like ours.”

Meanwhile, Premier Tom Marshall said there was “no bad news” in the budget, with a sprinkling of small things of interest to the province.

He said initiatives such as interest free loans for apprenticeships and internships for students, continuing the older workers program, investment in the forestry industry, and money for broadband in rural areas were of particular interest.

“Even though we are 95 per cent covered in the province,” he said of broadband. “There is $305 million over five years, so hopefully we will be able to get it from 95 per cent to 100 percent.”

He said improvements to highways and bridges for Parks Canada and investment in snowmobile trails should be beneficial to the province.

“There’s nothing huge,” he said. “... A lot of smaller items.”

The state of infrastructure throughout the province has been a big priority for the provincial government. Newfoundland and Labrador’s climate is particularly harsh on roadways and below ground water and sewage systems. With no direct mention of assistance in these areas, Marshall suggested maybe the people of the province will have something to look forward to in the next provincial budget.

“Maybe in our budget we can help out a little bit there,” he said. “We will talk next month sometime.”

Organizations: Royal Canadian Legion Branch, Veterans Affairs, Liberal Commons Parks Canada

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, CORNER BROOK, Montreal

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