Manitoba stakeholders react to Liberals' 2016 federal budget

Manitoban leaders in the arts, business and public policy weigh in on Ottawa's spending plan.

Infrastructure, indigenous peoples, families the focus of budget unveiled Tuesday

Several Manitoba stakeholders, including Grand Chief Derek Nepinak, Chuck Davidson of the Manitoba Chambers of Commerce, and Jeff Herd of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, discuss the Liberal's 2016 federal budget. 2:12

There was a range of reactions from Manitoban stakeholders to the 2016 federal budget.

The Liberals' spending plan, unveiled Tuesday, includes significant investments in aboriginal communities, infrastructure and the arts, and money for middle- and low-income families through the new Canada Child Benefit program.

The investments come at a cost. Ottawa projects a $29.4-billion deficit in this coming fiscal year.

Chuck Davidson, president and CEO of the Manitoba Chambers of Commerce, said the amount is a worry for Manitoba's business community.

"It's a bit of a concern. There doesn't seem to be a long-term plan in terms of getting us back to a balanced budget," he said.

Davidson said he was looking for two things in the federal budget: how the government would make Canada more competitive, and how Canada plans to develop a skilled workforce. Neither of these items were addressed to his satisfaction, he said.

Lynne Fernandez, Errol Black chair in labour issues with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, said she supports the Liberal budget and would have gone even further into the red.

Lynne Fernandez, Errol Black chair in labour issues with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, said she would have been pleased if the federal had expanded the deficit even larger than the projected $29.4 billion. (CBC)
"The fact that we've gone back into stimulus spending, into deficits, is very welcome," Fernandez said.

"We're facing three major challenges in Canada: we have slow economic growth, which is projected to stay around one per cent in the long term, which is worrisome; we have crumbling infrastructure; and we have an aging population."

Fernandez said she would have been comfortable with the federal government increasing the deficit if it meant more investments in areas like green technology and health care and restoring "really important" federal agriculture programs.

"We lost the Community Pasture Program, we lost the shelterbelt program and the beef cattle program in Brandon," she said.

"Our federal expenditures as a percentage of GDP haven't been this low for 60 years, and 60 years ago, we didn't have healthcare, we didn't have EI and we didn't have pensions — so we're now having to juggle with these programs with our expenditures at an all-time low."

Possible change in relations: Nepinak

Grand Chief Derek Nepinak said the new budget could be a step forward for relations between the federal government and the indigenous community in Manitoba.

"The money that's been announced today is very significant," said Nepinak.

The federal government has earmarked $8.4 billion over five years to pay for improving primary and secondary education, drinking water, family and child services, and housing on reserves.

"The numbers that are now being produced in the budget reflect an attempt to restore a relationship that's been badly damaged over the last number of years," said Nepinak.

"One thing Canadians need to know is since the spending cap of two per cent growth was put in place in the 1990s, a multibillion-dollar deficit has been created in terms of the gap between investment in infrastructure for children on reserve in education and the non-indigenous community."

Boost for Canadian arts

The federal government plans to invest $1.9 billion in the arts over the next five years. That's welcome news to Jeff Herd, executive director of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet.

"This kind of investment for us is critical," said Herd. 

Through the recession Canada was largely sheltered from severe cuts to the arts; instead, Canada's investment has been largely "stagnant" since the 1990s, he said.

With production costs on the rise, that has put arts institutions in tough positions.

The increase in funding will give Canadian arts an opportunity to "bat above our weight," Herd said.

"I'm actually quite pleased."

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