City pleased feds maintain gas tax fund

Federal budget impact on city unclear until details are rolled out.

Red Deer Mayor Tara Veer is pleased that the federal government’s budget maintains a gas tax fund the city counts on for infrastructure projects.

“That is welcome news. Our capital plan is heavily reliant on that being stable infrastructure funding,” said Veer on Tuesday. Red Deer will get $5.4 million in 2017 from the fund.

Whether Red Deer will also get a piece of a new $35-billion infrastructure pie, to be served out over the next 11 years, remains to be seen.

“It will strongly depend on the criteria for those capital grants programs,”said Veer on Wednesday. Unknown at this time is whether Red Deer will be competing against other mid-sized cities or will be in the queue alongside larger urban centres.

Veer said the city has met with the federal and provincial infrastructure ministers and stressed the importance of municipalities being at the table when the details and criteria for grant programs are established.

“These tri-lateral negotiations are critical in ensuring he funds flow to communities for locally identified infrastructure needs.”

Veer said the city will be watching as details on specific government programs are released and will gauge the impact on the city and the community.

Red Deer and District Chamber of Commerce sees a missed opportunity to boost Canada’s competitiveness in the budget.

“As it stands there was no mention of the word competitiveness and that is one of our biggest concerns at this time,” said Reg Warkentin, chamber policy and advocacy manager.

“Canadian businesses, and especially those in Alberta have seen their operating costs increase significantly over the past two years.”

By comparison, U.S. President Donald Trump has promised to slash taxes and regulations to help boost the economy.

“There was very little in this budget that will help the average business or worker in Canada,” said Warkentin, noting sin taxes and employment insurance premiums are increasing.

The budget also anticipates a $28.6-billion deficit in the coming year “with no plan to return to balanced budgets,” he said. By 2021, Canada’s debt servicing costs will hit $30 billion.

The federal government directed a lot of attention to innovation and skills training, which on the surface is a positive move.

“However, Canada currently has 147 different innovation programs worth a combined $23 billion, yet we are still innovation and productivity laggards in many respects,” he said.

“For good news, we did like the talking points around removing barriers to women in business and the money going towards child care. We believe these initiatives will improve our workforce.”

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