Hamiltonians give new federal budget mixed reviews
Reactions are mixed on how the newly tabled 2013 federal budget with bode for Hamilton.
Touting his plan's "fiscal responsibility," Finance Minister Jim Flaherty presented the budget in parliament on Thursday afternoon. The document contains little new spending, some program cuts and no tax increases.
However, Flaherty did proffer a few goodies for big municipalities as well as the country's ailing manufacturing industry, measures that some commentators say could bolster Hamilton's economic fortunes.
The budget includes $14.4 billion in infrastructure spending that is to be spread over 10 years and renews funding — to the tune of $119 million over five years — to provide housing to transition mentally ill and addicted homeless Canadians from shelters and the streets to homes.
The budget also increases cities' share of the federal gas tax by two per cent a year.
"This 10-year plan provides Hamilton with stability and will allow us to start prioritizing our infrastructure projects", Mayor Bob Bratina said in a statement. "I am happy that the federal budget has a focus on affordable housing and other infrastructure investments."
Tom Cooper, director of the Hamilton Roundatable for Poverty Reduction, told CBC Hamilton he was "pleasantly surprised" that anti-homelessness funding will continue, but added the budget should have gone further to help Canadians who are struggling financially.
"I'm happy that they've admitted the federal government has a role in making sure that Canadians are properly housed," he said. "However, in terms of fixing the crisis in employment insurance and ensuring that parents have access to affordable child care, I didn't see anything on those levels."
McMaster University labour studies professor Wayne Lewchuk lauded the government for addressing the need for skills training. But he said the jobs grants may only benefit a small portion of the population and could leave out workers who, while not necessarily unemployed, still require training to succeed.
"Many people who need training are employed through temp agencies these days. It's just not clear if this program is going to help those employees a whole lot."
The merits of the measures may not be known for quite awhile, Lewchuk added.
"I think it's good they're making this a key focus. Whether they've got the solution yet is unclear."
"Committed" to balanced budget by 2015
In his speech to MPs on Thursday, Flaherty identified slashing the deficit — not doling out new stimulus money — as his major budget priority.
"Our government is committed to balancing the budget in 2015," the finance minister said. "In uncertain global economic times, the most important contribution a government can make to bolster confidence and growth in a country is to maintain a sound fiscal position."
Flaherty insisted, though, that the government could have taken more drastic measures to put federal coffers in the black.
"We could have done more [to cut spending] … we chose not to because it's not necessary," he told reporters. "I want our country to be in a very solid fiscal position in case we have another crisis."
Opposition questions projections
NDP Leader Tom Mulcair called the budget a "shell-game con job."
"You cannot 'austere' your way out of a crisis," he told reporters on Thursday.
"This is what Mr. Flaherty is attempting to do. His predictions are consistently wrong. As we've seen again, he's running a higher deficit than he thought he would ... he's predicting even higher growth next year. When we're here together next year, we'll find out that that was also wrong."
With files from Laura Payton