Local provincial and federal government representatives MLA Peter Milobar and MP Cathy McLeod joined the District of Clearwater’s regular council meeting via Zoom on Jan. 19 to provide council with an update.
The conversation touched on the budgets for both levels of government, funding supports and economic recovery, as well as vaccine rollout.
Vaccine “best economic stimulus”
McLeod was the first to speak and first spoke about the federal deficit and debt. This time last year, she said, her biggest concern was the $27 billion deficit and also mentioned the anti-pipeline protests happening across the country.
“What a difference a year does make,” said McLeod.
This parliament hasn’t had a budget, something quite unprecedented, but they are expecting one to be tabled in the spring. Going into those discussions, McLeod mentioned the current deficit for the fiscal year is in the range of $400 billion, while the federal debt is expected to rise to over $1 trillion.
The Liberals said they were expecting to spend about $100 billion in economic recovery in an economic update, but McLeod said they’re not sure how the government will spend that money.
As far as parliament goes, it seems to be functioning pretty well, despite being a minority government. Ottawa doesn’t return to parliament until next week where the topic of federal budget will begin with an ever-diminishing representation in the House, due to COVID-19 restrictions. Most of Canada’s MPs, said McLeod, will join the meetings virutally.
She went on to speak about the various COVID-19 responses made by parliament.
“As you’re aware, the COVID support measures had to be moved out rapidly,” McLeod said. “There was a number of gaps in terms of some of the programs, especially as they related to small business. I would say that worked together reasonably well and moving them out quickly, supporting the government and making changes as they needed it.”
She went on to say she heard from various business owners in the Clearwater area regarding the challenges they were having, as well as some issues with the original measures put out. Because of this, some changes were able to be made, but there is still work ahead.
“One of the biggest concerns I’m hearing still is from new business owners and, certainly, if someone bought a business in January and can’t show their revenue reduction, they’re very, very challenged right now,” she explained. “Some of those stories right now are, of course, very heartbreaking.”
McLeod then moved on to vaccine rollout and said it is our best fight in recovering our economy and getting back to some form on normalcy. However, Pfizer announced that there would be delays in the next round, and as a result, the country will not be receiving a shipment next week.
Despite this, she said the best economic stimulus would be to get the vaccine rolled out and return to a somewhat normal state. This would be especially important, she continued, if an election would be called as we currently have a minority government in parliament.
“From my perspective, it would be great to have everyone vaccinated before there was any sort of talk of an election,” she said, reflecting on the snap election that was called in B.C. last fall.
Before taking questions from council, McLeod said an “absolute priority” she will focus on is the lack of internet in her riding, using the recent shut down of Canim Lake due to COVID-19 as an example as the children there don’t have access to internet for schooling.
“We’ve talked about internet for years but, I mean, it’s just become so clear that we have to have adequate internet and cellular service across this country and, of course, this pandemic has shown it more than anything and I know certainly in your area there, remains challenges,” she said to council.
During the question period, Councillor Shelley Sim asked about whether the federal government had any plans regarding tourism, as Clearwater can see up to 300,000 international visitors and almost 5,000 domestic visitors during the summer season.
In response, McLeod said she suspects the government will keep a close eye on both sides of the border, but decisions at this time are made month-to-month. She also mentioned vaccination rollout will have a factor, as well as having a low COVID infection rate will impact decisions, in addition to the new American administration.
MLAs focused on upcoming budget
Milobar began his time with a mention of the snap election and how that has affected supports when it comes to COVID-19.
“It did result in a bit of a slowdown for government,” he said, “and we’re still seeing that impact right now in terms of the provincial program around business grants, small and medium-sized business grants…so I would encourage (local businesses), if they haven’t looked at it recently, there was changes made.”
These changes include the requirement of the business having been established for three years downsized to 18 months, he added, and while some of the other qualifiers have been relaxed, the uptake is still quite low for the provincial program.
The focus for MLAs going back into the legislature in the next few weeks will also be the budget, Milobar continued, as when they met back in December, it was to extend the deadline for the government to bring out their budget. At this time, the NDP government is set to introduce their budget April 20, almost two months behidn schedule.
The downfall of this, said Milobar, is it affects municipalities, school districts, non-profits and other entities that receive government funding as their own fiscal years begin in April.
“It also means that there will be no new programs, no new infrastructure programs, anything of that nature between now and mid to end of April at the earliest, because the spending they have is locked in,” he added.
Milobar also noted that he has been in touch with both Wadlegger Logging & Construction and Dale Miller Logging in regards to the Clearwater River Road, and has been speaking with Mayor Merlin Blackwell, as well.
He said they are hoping to see some movement forward on permits to fix the road and that it is done in the proper time frame, about mid-March, to get the tourism back up into the park, most notably, the rafting businesses.
When it came to question period, Coun. Sim had concerns about the COVID restart funding, and was looking for some clarity around how the funds were allowed to be used. The wording from the provincial government was quite vague, she said, and was looking to see what kind of flexibility council had with the funds and if they were to be worried about any clawbacks.