Federal budget praised, panned by local officials

Calling it the good, the bad and the promising, Red Deer officials are divided over the inaugural Liberal federal budget.

Calling it the good, the bad and the promising, Red Deer officials are divided over the inaugural Liberal federal budget.

Red Deer College president Joel Ward sang praises of the 2016 budget, which he says was the first in a decade that significantly recognized post-secondary education.

The government pledges $2 billion over three years for a post-secondary institutions strategic investment fund, which will support up to 50 per cent of the eligible costs of infrastructure projects.

Ward said he sees many opportunities in the government’s strong commitment to increasing student grants, research opportunities and investments in Aboriginal education.

“Hats off to this government for recognizing post-secondary education and hats off to them for recognizing Alberta needs a little help right now,” said Ward, who sits on the board for the College and Institutes of Canada.

“They have acknowledged that and we have been very supportive of other provinces in times of need and it’s our turn right now.

“This government recognizes that.”

Ward said the college hopes to access funding for RDC’s energy conservation initiatives, a new entrance off Taylor Drive and upgrading its electrical grid.

Reg Warkentin, Red Deer and District Chamber of Commerce policy co-ordinator, however, was disappointed with the budget, particularly the $11.9 billion set aside over five years for improvements to transit, water and green infrastructure projects.

He said the the final stage of Red Deer’s eventual ring road is estimated to ring in at $120 million alone and Calgary’s LRT extension will cost an estimated $1.53 billion.

“With that in mind, it is hard to fathom how $11.9 billion over five years, spread across the entire country will have much of an economic stimulus at all for our region that is in it’s time of need,” said Warkentin.

The government’s decision to renege on the promise to reduce small business taxes from the current 10.5 per cent to nine per cent by 2019 was even more disappointing, said Warkentin.

“This means small business across the country will pay over $1 billion more than expected,” he said. “Making matters worse, the probable eventual expansion of the Canada Pension Plan will likely bring about a significant increase in payroll taxes while the Employment Insurance premium rate decreased less than expected.”

Mayor Tara Veer was equally disappointed in the small business tax reduction but she called other areas of the budget promising including the infrastructure spending; $3.4 billion over five years related to national parks and $2 billion in a low carbon economy fund that all could have positive effects on regional infrastructure.

Veer said the city will wait for more details on the budget to determine how it will affect Red Deer.

The federal budget also included a transfer of the remainder of uncommitted funds from older federal infrastructure programs to municipalities through the Gas Tax Fund in 2016 and 2017, she said.

“We will be looking for long-term sustainable and predictable funding in the long-term,” said Veer. “We are pleased there is a component in the upcoming recessionary year.”

Earl Dreeshen, MP for Red Deer-Mountain View, said he was deeply disappointed with the budget. Dreeshen said he was concerned about the impacts on economy, the increased debt load and struggling families.

“What you have to look at is controlled spending,” said Dreeshen. “There are opportunities when you reduce taxes and I know it sounds so odd to many people, you have to get investment into the country. That’s really the key component.

“What you really need to do is make sure companies are investing. You make sure you don’t have higher taxes. You make sure you reduce regulatory uncertainty. Those are things that encourage companies to come in and do the things that are required.”