The federal budget's focus on infrastructure and construction has disappointed some business analysts and academic, public service and high-tech professionals in Ottawa.
The budget released by Finance Minister Jim Flaherty Tuesday included billions to build and repair bridges, roads and sewers; renovate crumbling buildings owned by the federal government and Canada's universities and colleges; and improve rail service in the Toronto-Ottawa-Montreal corridor. The $12 billion in infrastructure spending is all part of a package to stimulate Canada's flagging economy.
At the same time, it offers no targeted help to Ottawa's struggling high-tech industry.
It also freezes public service wage increases at 1.5 per cent a year for the next three years, even for groups that have negotiated higher increases.
David Mason, an analyst with the financial consulting firm Deloitte, said he's disappointed by the lack of help for the high-tech sector.
"I really thought as we try to move away from manufacturing to knowledge-based that there would be more in there for other knowledge-based businesses other than the green tech," he said.
Emre Daglik, a former high-tech employee who lost his job 10 months ago, said he had also hoped the budget would give his sector a boost.
"I believe high tech really is a big fuel for Canada's economy," he said, adding that things have been tough for his family. "We're now down to one income, with two kids. It's not helping any way shape or form."
He added that his employment insurance benefits are scheduled to run out this month. If the budget passes, those benefits will be extended for another five weeks. That would be "a great lifeline for me," Daglik said.
Union to fight raise rollbacks
Technology workers aren't the only ones disappointed by the budget.
Michèle Demers, president of the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada, said she is upset the budget freezes wage increases for federal public servants at 1.5 per cent a year, even if they already had higher increases in contracts signed prior to the economic slowdown.
"The collective bargaining process has been infringed upon. This is a constitutional right," she said. "We find that extremely unfortunate at a time where the public service is the body that will implement a lot of the programs and the infrastructure initiatives put forward by this budget." Demers said the union, which represents scientists and professionals in the public service, will look at all the options available to restore their right to negotiate binding contracts.
Federal departments and public servants could also be subject to a spending freeze under the proposed budget, and will likely be asked to cut back on travel, conferences and hospitality.
Meanwhile, Ian Lee, professor at Carleton University's Sprott School of Business, said he doesn't think the budget will get the country out of recession.
He said he would have preferred a budget that focused more on mass transit and post-secondary education.
"Any time you invest in higher education, you're training the next generation," he said. "We need to produce the next generation of public servants and business people, health-care workers and so forth."
Some Ottawa residents were pleased with the budget, however.
David Wilson and Michael Denny, two engineers who are working to develop alternative energy technology, said they think the budget will be good for Ottawa's clean-tech sector, and they both hope to get a piece of the proposed $1 billion Green Infrastructure Fund.
Civil engineer Tyler Hynes, who has been searching for months for a job, is hoping the billions of dollars for infrastructure will create work for people like him.
"That will pan out perfectly for people graduating right now, looking to get into the trades, into the industry," he said. "That's what the country needs."