Finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s federal budget is unlikely to pass a vote in the House of Commons, but it will probably find new life as part of the Conservative platform in the fourth federal election campaign in seven years.
The budget offers $2.3 billion in new spending across a wide range of initiatives, as the government moves to cut a $40.5-billion deficit.
Pollster Nik Nanos said the government’s fiscal plan was designed by the Conservatives to be “a pre-election budget,” partly because “a poisoned atmosphere between the politicians” would make it hard for them to avoid a spring vote.
A range of stakeholders are weighing in on the budget, hinting at how their respective constituencies might respond to the Conservatives’ latest spending plans.
Among the budget’s proposals, seniors who collect Old Age Security and the Guaranteed Income Supplement will get annual benefits of up to $600 for singles, and $840 for couples, for a total cost to the government of $300 million per year.
Susan Eng, who represents the senior citizens interest group CARP, said the government pitch to allocate new money for pensioners is “better than nothing,” but not by much.
“Of course this is a nod to something that we’ve raised — the need to help those that are most vulnerable, people that have no other source of income,” she said.
“That’s an important advance, but they really have to look at much more than that in order to lift people out of poverty.”
The National Citizens Coalition, a conservative lobby group, applauded the government for trying to limit public spending and whittle down the federal deficit.
“While a few token concessions have been made for parliamentary peace, the overall focus of the government remains in the right direction,” the group said in a statement.
The deficit for this year is expected to be $40.5 billion, down from a record-breaking $56 billion last year.
With Canada’s economy recovering from a global recession, and economists estimating real gross domestic product growth of 2.9 per cent in 2011, the government hopes to reach a balanced budget by 2015.
The budget also received a mixed reaction from municipalities and provinces.
Windsor Mayor Eddie Francis said he was happy to see the government talking about “a long-term infrastructure plan” for cities and a “commitment towards the gas tax.”
The Conservative government has proposed making the $2-billion Gas Tax Fund permanent as a way to provide steady infrastructure money to cities.
At the same time, Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi, charged that an end to economic stimulus spending will curb the ability of municipalities to put money into infrastructure projects.
Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall and B.C. Finance Minister Kevin Falcon both praised the budget for being fiscally conservative, while proposed “green” initiatives won support from at least one environmental group.
Rick Smith, executive director of Environmental Defence, welcomed the government’s decision to allocate $200 million for the Chemicals Management Plan and $400 million in new funding for the popular home retrofit program.
But the group wanted to see more information about new clean-air regulations and more money allocated to protecting the Great Lakes.
“Given that Canadian officials have been assuring other countries that better management of polluters is coming, it is critical that regulations for large polluters like the tar sands industry get enacted this year,” Smith said in a statement.
The budget proposes spending $5 million over two years to clean up the Great Lakes.
With files from The Canadian Press
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