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Locals react to federal budget

Kootenay Columbia MP David Wilks touts Conservative budget, NDP candidate Wayne Stetski responds.
Kootenay Columbia MP David Wilks and NDP candidate Wayne Stetski respond to Conservative budget.

The Harper government unveiled their budget on Tuesday—a 518-page document that includes a $1.4 billion surplus as well as other targeted spending initiatives.

Announced at the House of Commons in Ottawa, Finance minister Joe Oliver presented the 2015 federal budget that features spending in areas such as defence and security, transit, and marking Canada's 150th anniversary in 2017.

Balancing the budget was a key priority for Oliver—a priority shared by Kootenay-Columbia MP David Wilks.

"Well, it was a promise we had given to Canadians in the 2011 election platform, that we would balance the budget by the time the next election came along, and we did that."

The budget will have far-reaching implications even into the Kootenay region, said Wilks.

For starters, the budget will reduce the small business tax rate from 11 per cent to 9 per cent by 2019. There will also be a one-time $65 million investment to business and industry to work with post-secondary institutions to better align the curricula with the needs of employers.

"As you know, the College of the Rockies has worked well with several businesses around Kootenay-Columbia region, most specifically with Teck, but I'm sure this will give them an opportunity to move forward with others as well," said Wilks.

There will be $2.8 billion available for infrastructure improvements for heritage, tourism, waterways and highway assets within the national historic sites and national parks across Canada.

"So we know when they talk about highway assists within national parks, specifically Yoho, Glacier, and Mount Revelstoke national parks—that's significant national highway assets that they need to deal with," continued Wilks.

"I had put a proposal forward to the minister and I'm hoping that I will be able to get a significant portion of that budget to improve the highway from the Alberta border to the Revelstoke area."

Reminiscing back to when he addressed the Cranbrook Chamber of Commerce earlier in April, Wilks noted the budget includes the creation of an internal trade promotion office within Industry Canada.

"I just spoke with the Chamber last week and challenged them to be the movers and shakers in that so I think there's some great opportunity for Cranbrook, not only there in [city] council, but also in the Cranbrook business community, to be leaders in trying to move this forward," Wilks said.

Approximately $10 million per year for three years will go towards supporting conservation of recreational fishing across the country.

Wilks says he hopes that funding can be used for Kokanee conservation efforts in Kootenay Lake.

"We know in Kootenay Lake right now we're having a problem with the Kokanee salmon—they're dying at an alarming rate," he said. "Hopefully there are rod and gun clubs or fisheries clubs in the area that will be able to access some of this funding and move forward with some of the rehabilitation in that area."

Wayne Stetski, the NDP candidate for the Kootenay-Columbia riding, criticized Oliver's budget in an emailed statement.

"The Harper Conservatives have tabled a budget that continues the pattern they've followed from the start, ignoring the needs of the middle class while giving tax breaks to the wealthy," Stetski said.

"I believe that voters will judge the Harper Conservatives on their record: the highest deficit budget in Canada's history at $58.2 billion, and 7 straight deficit budgets. With that record, saying they'll balance the budget now, right before an election, is going to be pretty tough for most Canadians to believe."

Stetski accuses the Harper government of giving tax breaks to core supporters and authoring a budget that doesn't serve the needs of Canadians.

"What is important to the people of Kootenay Columbia that is not present in this budget is affordable day care, increasing the Guaranteed Income Supplement for seniors, and enhanced infrastructure funding to rebuild our communities and provide good local jobs," Stetski said.

"Those are my priorities."

Other budget highlights include:

• The federal contingency fund drops to $1 billion in 2015-16, returning to $3 billion by 2019.

• An additional $11.8 billion for the Canadian military over 10 years, starting in 2017.

• Up to $360.3 million for the extended and expanded mission against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, and $7.1 million for the recently announced military training mission in Ukraine.

• $292.6 million over five years for the RCMP, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) and Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) to fight terrorism and enforce the government's new anti-terror law.

• $12.5 million over five years, followed by an additional $2.5 million a year, for the Security Intelligence Review Committee, which oversees CSIS.

• $58 million over five years to better protect computer networks and critical infrastructure against cyberattacks, and $36.4 million over five years to address cybersecurity threats.

• $60.4 million over three years to buttress Parliament Hill security, $27 million over give years for tighter security at federal court and registry offices, and $10 million over five years for Ottawa police.

• Changing the rules governing registered retirement income funds, or RRIFs, to allow seniors to preserve their retirement nest eggs for longer.

• Increasing the annual contribution limit on tax-free savings accounts to $10,000 from $5,500.

• Extending compassionate-care benefits under the employment insurance system from six weeks to six months for Canadians caring for gravely ill family members.

• A $1-million lifetime capital gains exemption for farm and fishing businesses.

• $750 million over two years, starting in 2017-18, plus $1 billion a year thereafter, for a fund to promote investment in public transit systems.

• $3 million over two years, starting next year, to establish a high-speed mobile network dedicated to emergency management.

• $210 million over four years for activities and events to mark Canada's 150th anniversary in 2017.

• An additional $1.33 billion over six years, starting in 2017-18, to support advanced research infrastructure at universities, colleges and research hospitals.

With files from the Canadian Press


Trevor Crawley

About the Author: Trevor Crawley

Trevor Crawley has been a reporter with the Cranbrook Townsman and Black Press in various roles since 2011.
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