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Nanaimo-Alberni MP lauds transition budget

Nanaimo-Alberni Conservative MP James Lunney highlighted goodies that could benefit B.C. contained in the 2014 federal budget.

The 419-page document was brought down by federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty Tuesday.

Lunney described the budget as modest and designed to help make a transition toward a future with budget surpluses.

"It is a modest budget," Lunney said. "Frankly it closes the loop of the deficit years, which was the result of the world-wide economic downturn, and a returning to balanced budgets, which in the next cycle it will close that loop and by the end of this fiscal period we'll be back into balanced budgets and moving to surplus."

All told, $5.8 billion will be transferred to B.C.

"The breakdown of that is $4.2 billion for the Canadian Health Transfer for health services in British Columbia," Lunney said. "And $1.6 billion of that is through the Canada Social Transfer."

Among highlights Lunney said could benefit B.C. is $90.4 million for the Forestry Transformation Fund to help innovators in the forest industry develop new business practices and new value-added new products and bring those to market.

The Recreational Fisheries Conservation Partnership Program is also getting another $15 million over the next two years, some of which will make its way to salmon enhancement projects on the mid-Island.

Disaster preparedness programs across Canada will have $200 million more available to bolster disaster mitigation efforts. Lunney estimated at about $20 million of that could be available for B.C. programs. Upgrading earthquake monitoring and public alert systems will have $11 million to spend.

Search and rescue volunteers will get a 15-per cent tax credit after putting in 200 hours of volunteer time to search and rescue programs.

The Nanaimo Port Authority, which has started renovating the wharf system in the downtown boat basin, can also take advantage of $40 million in the budget to improve small craft harbours in coastal communities.

The government has also made available $100 million in interest-free loans per year for apprentices in Red Seal trades programs to complete their training. Red Seal certification ensures workers meet inter-provincial industry standards within their trades.

"Because [Vancouver Island University] still has the apprenticeship program, I think that would be a big deal there," Lunney said.

The budget included an extra $100 million to expand burial and funeral programs for low-income veterans and $2 million is being spent to provide veterans and their families 24/7 access to the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Another $10 million has been provided to the National Trails Coalition for improvements to recreational trails systems across Canada. Some money will find its way to trails on the south and central Island.

Nanaimo-Cowichan NDP MP Jean Crowder said she finds it difficult to judge what the potential impacts of the budget might be since it comes up short on details regarding implementation of some programs.

"People are saying to me, 'What will the impact be on people in your riding?' and I'm going, I pretty much can't tell you because some of this doesn't roll out until April 21, 2015, which is another full year away and with some of it there are no details."

Crowder noted a lack of particulars about how the government will tackle the Canada-U.S. consumer goods  price gap, capping cellular roaming fees or improving broadband Internet service to rural and northern communities.

Crowder said funding must be applied for under some programs and it can take several months to find out if applicants will receive funding or not.

"I know one organization that said to me they waited nine moths to hear that they were not the successful applicant for money in this fiscal year," Crowder said. "So how do you plan your staffing when you've got that kind of response time?"

Crowder applauded the tax credit for search and rescue workers.

"It recognizes the countless hours volunteers put in, but as for the rest of it, meh, I don't know," Crowder said.

Unemployment, Crowder said, is a major issue in Island communities and she would have liked to see a home and business energy retrofit program funded, which would stimulate work for local tradespeople, save money for consumers and energy plus draw tradespeople out of the underground economy to improve the tax base.

 

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