“Not too much” in federal budget for most of northwest: Cullen

The representative from Skeena-Bulkley Valley is dubbing it the “backload budget.”

The representative from Skeena-Bulkley Valley is dubbing it the “backload budget.”

NDP MP Nathan Cullen liked some of the ideas in the federal budget, but did not like that the things he saw as positive policy would not be reality in this fiscal year.

The federal deficit is expected to rise from $23 billion in 2016-17 to $28.5 billion in 2017-18. New spending is up by $5.7 billion over six years in this budget, compared to $26.5 billion in the Liberal government’s first budget last year.

“It’s being called the backload budget because a bunch of the important spending doesn’t happen until the fifth, sixth, tenth, eleventh year from now, which is not really a commitment worth the paper it’s printed on,” said Cullen in a phone-in media conference from Ottawa.

When speaking of how the Northwest will be affected, Cullen pointed to child care, housing and environmental investments. $500 million was allocated for 2017-18 to start work on a national program with the provinces and territories, with $7 billion being spent over 10 years. The federal goal is to create 40,000 new childcare space in three years, but most of the $7 billion comes after the next election.

“There was a promise of child care spaces which is important for a number of folks in the North, but that spending doesn’t start for another three years,” said Cullen.

“There was also a promise of getting some green energy started. Again, no funding until the next election.”

The government’s debt was not what had the MP most concerned.

“The general state of the economy is what concerns me and others. Finance Canada revise downward again the health of the economy. This is the fourth time in a row that they had to do that – every time since Mr. Trudeau has taken office,” said Cullen.

“We also know that there’s 1.3 million Canadians out of work, and Canadians are carrying around the highest personal debt in our history.”

Other campaign promises by the Liberals still being sought by the NDP, according to Cullen, include taxing stock options – estimated to be able to bring in about $800 million in revenue – and more money for First Nations children.

“The government is in court fighting against an order that would see them spend money on First Nations child welfare. We thought there’s be the $150 million here in the budget. It’s not. So the Liberals have chosen to spend four or five times more money on a CEO tax loophole than they would on getting First Nations kids child welfare,” said Cullen.

He also spoke of the effort to end boil water advisories on First Nations, saying while 18 have been solved, there were 12 new ones at the same time and that it would take 300 years to end at this pace.

“The Prime Minister wrapped himself in all kinds of blankets and went to First Nations ceremonies and talked about being an ally, yet when it comes down to the rubber hitting the road which is the budget, for the wont of political will, he is just unwilling, unable to just sign the cheque that is required,” said Cullen

With smaller municipalities like those in the Northwest, even when funding is announced, Cullen said it is hard for those communities to benefit. He pointed to the example of Telkwa, which recently turned down over $1 million from the federal and provincial governments for a new water tower because its council said it could not afford to cover its one-third of the cost. He said the rules only work for big cities.

“Making the money accessible is more important rather than trying to give themselves credit for making large announcements and cutting ribbons that don’t actually mean anything,” said Cullen.

He added that changing deadlines and rules also make it tough for small towns and cities.

“They make the announcement then make the requirement for the money to be spent by the end of March, right into the winter building season, but they won’t release the money until October. So then the costs of the project go up and we have to go back to the government and change the proposal because we have to melt the ground in order to fill the infrastructure,” said Cullen.

“It’s completely idiotic and completely frustrating that we can’t just understand that there’s winter in Canada, and particularly in northern Canada, where the government’s own timelines just simply don’t work for the money that they want to spend.”

He pointed to the Parliamentary budget office stating that winter construction is holding back infrastructure spending.

“So it’s either incompetence or intentional,” said Cullen.

He was blunt when asked to sum up his impression of the budget:

“For a $300-billion budget ad another $30 billion in the hole, Canadians are going to be asking what they are getting out of this thing, and the answer is going to be not too much – unless you happen to be earning lots of money, then you’re more than happy; and if you’re a CEO getting stock options, things remain rosy,” said Cullen.”