Wednesday August 20, 2014

Local budget reaction mixed


Local reaction to the February 11 federal budget has been mixed.

Parkland College president Fay Myers was in Ottawa for the budget presentation and came away optimistic.

“It was very good to be here,” she said. “The federal budget was quite positive for colleges and skills training.”

Specifically, Jim Flaherty, finance minister, announced $75 million over three years to the Targeted Initiative for Older Workers program; $100 million in interest-free loans for apprentices; and the implementation of the $300 million Canada Job Grant as of April 1, with or without provincial buy-in.

Myers sees these measures as having a direct impact on the college, which is directly involved with the kind of training covered by these programs.

She was also optimistic about the Building Canada Fund (BCF), from which Parkland is hoping to get a $10 million grant for its new Trades and Technology Centre. The budget lacked specifics about the BCF aside from some targeted initiatives including bridges in Montreal and Windsor, and some National Parks infrastructure projects, but Myers is hopeful when the parameters for applications are announced in the spring, the Province will be able to apply on Parkland’s behalf.

Yorkton-Melville MP Garry Breitkreuz was not able to say if there would be any money specifically allocated to the College or the city, but that he is working on it.

“I will certainly be advocating for Yorkton as I always do,” he said.

Mayor Bob Maloney was not nearly as optimistic.

“There are some good things in the federal budget, but I didn’t see a lot for municipalities,” he said.

On the good side, he mentioned the $305 million for rural broadband Internet, which he thinks will benefit Saskatchewan greatly.

Yorkton, however, was counting on BCF money to help fund its proposed $45 million Broadway Street reconstruction project.

“I didn’t hear Build Canada mentioned once,” Maloney said. “It was a little disappointing.”

The City has invested heavily in making the project “shovel-ready” with the hope of applying for the grant this year and starting construction in 2015. Even following a second announcement February 13 about the BCF, Maloney remained pessimistic.

“I’m not going to hold my breath,” he said. “We could be in trouble for 2015. I don’t see any big dollars rolling out any time soon.”

The City is weighing its options and the mayor said Council will need to make a decision.

“We could be in a holding pattern until they roll out the money, or else we bite off a piece we can chew,” he said, suggesting that the section from Dracup Avenue to Myrtle Avenue might be a candidate for a scaled-down project.

Other local concerns about the budget included a lack of investment in affordable housing. The Federation of Canadian Municipalities views social housing as a crisis and says $1.5 billion for social housing will be lost over the next five years as a result of expiring federal investments that were not renewed in the 2014 budget.

Randy Goulden, Yorkton deputy mayor who sits on the FCM board, said it could be a real problem for the city given immigration and an aging demographic profile, both of which depend on social housing.

“It means, will we be able to sustain that and continue providing those services?” she said.

Goulden also expressed disappointment over the BCF.

“Our concern is we’re going to miss the construction season, which, in Saskatchewan, is not long enough as it is,” she said.

Don Rae, president of the Yorkton Chamber of Commerce said the biggest thing for local businesses is the investment in skills training in the 2014 budget.

“Anything that goes along that line is good for us because that’s our biggest Achilles heel right now in the city and the province,” he said.

Rae also saw some progress with regard to simplifying the tax system for small business.

“I see they’ve tried to address that a bit, but they’ve got a long way to go yet.”



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