DARRYL KNIGHT The Standard
NORTH DURHAM: Moving forward with their goal of reducing the country's $25.9 billion federal deficit by 2015, the Harper Conservatives presented a frugal federal budget last week.
Finance Minister Jim Flaherty presented the latest budget on Friday, March 21, featuring support for Ontario's struggling manufacturing sector, modest spending, cuts to government departments as well as a clampdown on tax evasion.
The most promising news for municipal leaders was likely the commitment from the Harper government to renew the Building Canada Fund, which will provide almost $14 billion to municipalities for the repair of transit systems, bridges and other infrastructure projects over the next ten years.
As well, with over one million Canadians currently unemployed, an expanded skills training initiative will rely on assistance from the province and employers.
Through the Canada Jobs Grant, the federal government will provide up to $5,000 for job training with the province and employers making matching contributions in an effort to upgrade the job skills of Canadians.
The program is not slated to begin until 2014, and will depend on successful negotiations between Ottawa and the provinces.
With Ontario's manufacturing industry still lagging, the new budget features spending aimed at easing the tough times faced by the industry in recent years, hopefully spurring new investment in industry.
The budget includes $920 million over the course of five years for the renewal of the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario. Since 2009, almost 350 projects in Southern Ontario have received funding through the agency. There will also be $200 million allocated over the next five years through the Advanced Manufacturing Fund which aims to promote innovative product development or production methods in Ontario.
There is also $1.4 billion in tax relief for manufacturers for the purchase of new equipment and machinery.
Durham MP Erin O'Toole lauded the budget's commitment to job creation as well as a balance between spending cuts and higher taxes.
"Despite a challenging global economy, Canada has the best job creation record among all G-7 countries and with this budget we are renewing our focus on job creation to build upon the 950,000 net new jobs since the end of the recession" O'Toole said in a press release. "This budget strikes a careful balance to create jobs and eliminate our deficit without raising taxes for families or seniors."
As well, the budget could mean some items may be available for less with international tariffs removed from items including baby clothing and sports equipment.
The government will look to close tax loopholes in an effort to boost government coffers. The new measure includes paying tipsters who report tax cheats.
Disabled, ill and aging veterans will benefit from a $1.9 billion investment in the Funeral and Burial Program, which is also known as the "Last Post Fund."
And, in a measure to provide better weather forecasting, Environment Canada will receive $248 million over the next five years to improve weather monitoring equipment across the country in an effort to provide more accurate and timely weather forecasts and warnings.
Since 2010, Conservatives have cut federal spending by $15 billion, with an eye towards a balanced budget by 2015, which should coincide with the next federal election.
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