Cam Fortems – Kamloops This Week
Kamloops-Thompson-Cariboo MP Cathy McLeod trumpeted a forecasted return to balanced books in Ottawa following the introduction this week of federal budget by Finance Minister Jim Flaherty.
But, the Opposition NDP said the books are being manipulated to boost next year’s Conservative election campaign.
Flaherty’s 10th federal budget all but balances the books this fiscal year, leaving a negligible $2.9-billion shortfall heading into the 2015-2016 election year — when Prime Minister Stephen Harper will go to the electorate sporting a surplus that could exceed $6 billion.
“The most important part is a very clear plan to get back to a balanced budget with the last deficit this year,” McLeod said.
Actual new spending amounts to a just $700 million — exactly the amount the government expects to raise from new tobacco taxes — against spending cuts that top $2 billion.
Sam Aggarwal, who operates McGoo’s Smokes N Stuff on Tranquille Road in North Kamloops, predicted smokers will complain about a $4 per carton hike for cigarettes. Taxes will also rise on cigars and chewing tobacco.
“Customers will get used to it,” the retailer predicted. “They’ll complain for a week and get used to it.”
McLeod defended the increase in tobacco taxes.
“I don’t think it’s [budget] being balanced on the backs of smokers.
“It’s being done on having an economy that will grow and [constraining] government spending.”
The MP said past experience has shown as taxes go up, smoking goes down — providing a public health benefit.
The Opposition NDP called it “Harper’s do-nothing budget,” saying Conservatives are worrying more about their own election chances than helping Canadians.
Kamloops-Thompson-Cariboo NDP president Garry Worth said the federal government should be working to help families struggling financially, boosting environmental protection and extending affordable-housing provisions.
“The Conservatives are going ahead with cuts and closures and not standing up for British Columbians” Worth said. “This is politics at its worst — telling people to wait until an election year for the help they need now.”
NDP Leader Tom Mulcair, was in Kamloops on Friday, Feb. 14, said the budget does little to help Canadians.
“There’s nothing in this budget that will create jobs and that’s the issue because that’s one of the first priorities for Canadians,’’ Mulcair said.
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau said the deficit is being slashed “on the backs of workers’’ due to a fat surplus in the employment insurance account.
“This government has run out of ideas and is demonstrating it once again.’’
Flaherty defended the modest budget as a necessity.
“Some people will say this budget is boring; I consider that a compliment,’’ he said.
McLeod also noted measures to increase rural broadband coverage and to provide internship funding to help freshly graduated students get entry into the workplace through an employment subsidy.
Net government spending is forecasted to fall slightly in 2014-2015.
“The extent of the cuts to direct program spending are very substantial, yet we knew the government had to downsize from the recession stimulus or there was no way we could handle the aging baby boom generation,’’ said Mary Webb, senior economist at Scotiabank.
“There’s actual good, hard reasons for why they’re doing this.’’
When the Conservatives came to office in 2006, Canada was spending 17 cents of every tax dollar on debt, down from more than 30 cents in the early 1990s.
Last year, that was down to 11 cents and it should hit 10.5 cents this year.
— with files from Canadian Press