Penny-pinching federal budget draws criticism in Manitoba
Published Thursday, March 29, 2012 5:49PM CST
The Conservative government unveiled its federal budget March 29, which aims to slash billions in spending, along with raising eligibility for Old Age Security and eliminating thousands in civil service jobs.
The budget received criticism from some Manitoba politicians and groups.
Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger said he is upset Ottawa went ahead with a plan to raise Old Age Security eligibility from 65 to 67, slated to take effect in 2023, meaning some people could have to work longer and potentially putting a strain on social services.
"It's going to put pressure on the provinces to pick up the differences. That is a concern. We think that being able to retire at 65 with dignity is very important," said Selinger.
Finance Minister Jim Flaherty suggested the OAS change would not put more financial strains on provinces.
"If there are some costs, increased costs for social assistance in any of the provinces that arise out of this change, that is a long way away…we said in the budget that we would compensate the provinces for that change so there will be no cost for the provinces," Flaherty.
The premier said for the third year in a row, Manitoba will get a zero per cent increase for health and education transfers, making it difficult for the province to pay down its own deficit.
"We also recognize that we have to move towards balance over a reasonable time frame we've put forward, but we don't think a zero per cent increase in health is a step in the right direction," said Selinger.
"This budget is a budget that puts jobs at risk and health care at risk," said Selinger.
The government said the budget will trim more than $5 billion in federal spending by 2014-2015. The federal deficit is projected in the budget to vanish by 2015.
Finance Minister Flaherty suggested the budget was a cautious one.
"We are a moderate, pragmatic government that responds to the facts as they are, and not as we might wish them to be," Flaherty said in the budget lockup Thursday.
"We are fiscal conservatives, we are a majority now, the economy is growing -- albeit modestly. ... We're looking to the future."
Department spending will be reduced on average by seven per cent and 19,000 civil service jobs will be eliminated over the next three years.
Most of the civil service job reductions are expected to hit in Ottawa, but union leaders said the effect will be felt nation-wide, including in Manitoba.
"We have members who are proud to have public services, are proud to do the work that they do, and so this will have a ripple effect, I believe, from coast to coast to coast," said Robyn Benson, regional executive vice-president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada.
Winnipeg's business community, meanwhile, called the budget a timid one.
"We would like to see a more bold approach, in terms of returning to balanced budgets. We think it could have been more aggressive," said Dave Angus from the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce.
The government pledged $275 million over three years for education on First Nations, along with more than $330 million over two years to develop water systems and water quality.
Premier Selinger said he was happy to see funding listed in the federal budget for First Nations.
But some Manitoba aboriginal leaders said it's not enough.
"The budget fails to address a lot of things we've been crying out for," said Chief Garrison Settee of Pimicikamak Cree Nation.
Also included in the budget is a plan to raise the daily duty limit, allowing cross-border shoppers to bring back $200 duty free after 24 hours in the U.S., up from the current amount of $50.
The budget also includes plans to stop production of the penny this fall. The government estimates that will save $11 million per year.
- with a report from CTV's Jeff Keele and files from The Canadian Press