Finance minister Paul Martin, in his budget Monday, has proven he’s a master juggler, capable of tackling the crises of the day while holding to fiscal responsibility.
The budget may not be what Rainy River District would want, but it does address the need for this area’s residents to feel safe.
The budget lives within the country’s means, true. But while it seeks to remove fear of harm to Canadians, it does not remove the fear of loss of jobs, the costs of education, and the security of a quality health care system.
The expenditure of $7.7 billion over five years on safety initiatives to keep Canadians safe is important, especially with a major portion—$1.2 billion—to be spent on increasing security at Canadian border points.
The money will ensure the steady flow of goods back and forth between Canada and the United States. An additional $1 billion will be spent on screening entrants to Canada.
For the district, dependent on the sale of paper, lumber, and building products into the U.S., maintaining of an open border is crucial. And while the screening of people coming into Canada at the two border points may prove troublesome for those in the tourist industry, it will be important to sell the new measures as a means of ensuring the safety of visitors to Canada from terrorists.
It is important to confirm to Americans that we are establishing a zone of security for them.
Spending on infrastructure—$2.2 billion for roads, bridges, and sewers—will be dependent on finding private-sector partners. It was a message Fort Frances council also passed on to the “Re-Inventing Fort Frances” committee Monday night.
The spending of $185 million to help aboriginal children should be welcomed by district First Nations. The throne speech back in January had promised increased spending for Canada’s aboriginal peoples to improve health, education, and infrastructure.
While the money falls short of the throne speech promise, the $185 million—which will be earmarked for day care, early childhood development programs, special education needs for children on reserves, and reducing the rates of fetal alcohol syndrome—strikes to the heart of improving opportunities for children on reserves.
Indian Affairs minister and local MP Robert Nault deserves credit for increasing that spending in his ministry.
On the down side, many district residents and businesses were anticipating a massive spending for broad-band. But the promise of $4-billion in the throne speech is being postponed across Canada, and such a cutback may hurt some of Canada’s industries from growing and expanding in the long run.
Canada’s premiers also wanted increased transfer payments for health care. Sure, the money previously promised is being maintained, but no new funds are being delivered to provincial health ministries.
Also pledged in Monday’s budget was $1.1 billion for new skills and training projects over three years. That’s aimed at replacing last year’s Liberal election promise of a multibillion-dollar RRSP-style program to help adults save money for skills training.
This budget will deliver $1.1 billion for skills, learning, and research, but the thought of additional tax-free saving for education was deleted. As such, the gap to close the costs of education has not been achieved.
Still, the bottom line is Mr. Martin kept his promise to maintain a balanced budget while continuing with tax cuts. It is a cautious budget, but one we can live with.