Saturday, January 12, 2008

Conservative’s idea of largesse not well received in Northwestern BC

The one billion dollar funding program for those communities that are suffering from battered local economies, has been partially panned by two key politicians from the Northwest, mainly due to the apparent strings attached policy that goes with it.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper made his announcement on Thursday with a hard hit New Brunswick lumber mill providing the back drop (once again Podunk, we've missed out on a photo op, Watson Island would have been a dandy backdrop don't ya think?) for the feel good intentions of the Conservatives heading into budget time.

The National Community Development Trust Fund, has apparently been designed to bring some relief to those vulnerable communities that have suffered the woes of the forest, fishing and manufacturing sectors.

"The program is aimed at one industry towns facing major downturns, or communities plagued by chronic high unemployment, or regions hit by layoffs across a range of sectors,” said Prime Minister Harper who later went on to say that together the federal government and provinces can turn "economic challenges, into economic opportunities".

The distribution of monies always a popular talking point will see each $10 million dollars provided to each of the participating provinces while each territory will get $3 million. Any remaining money will be re-distributed on a per capita basis.

However, don’t be expecting a cash injection just yet, the way the program has been designed and the pool of money that it is dependant on, will only come into play should the opposition parties approve the upcoming budget. Should the government fall on a budget related vote, then the program it seems would die, and with it the money distribution program for the hard hit communities.

It’s that caveat that has raised the ire of the two local representatives in Prince Rupert, Gary Coons and Nathan Cullen both revealed their thoughts on the issue in a front page story in the Daily News.

By Leanne Ritchie
The Daily News
Friday, January 11, 2008
Pages one and three

Provincial and federal representatives in the Northwest are accusing the Conservative government of playing political games with communities hard-hit by the rising Canadian dollar.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced one billion in funding for communities suffering economic woes yesterday at a lumber mill in rural New Brunswick south of Fredericton.

The money will be used for what Harper called a "national community development trust fund" aimed at helping vulnerable communities and laid-off workers in "traditional industries," such as forestry, fishing and manufacturing.

However, the fund will be created from a one-time allocation from the federal government's budgetary surplus, which means the fund won't survive unless the opposition parties in Ottawa agree to support the next budget.

Speaking from Prince Rupert yesterday, Skeena-Bulkley Valley MP Nathan Cullen accused the Conservatives of playing politics with people's lives by refusing to provide no-strings-attached economic aid to Canadians hard hit by the rising dollar and volatile commodity prices.

"Stephen Harper needs to act now to move this money out to people and communities that urgently need it," Cullen said. "I'm shocked the prime minister would hold Canadians hostage by tying Opposition support for the upcoming federal budget to the aid package.

"Huge consecutive budget surpluses are more than enough to provide the dollars needed to overcome economic upheavals that are wrecking entire communities."

Under the plan, each of the provinces will get $10 million in base funding and each territory will get $3 million. The rest of the fund will be handed out on a per capita basis.

Cullen said he was encouraged by the direction of the aid package, to support worker retraining, skills development, and economic transition in struggling single-industry communities.
"The NDP has been fighting for this for years. It's great to see government finally recognize the value of investing in people and communities."

"But let's strip politics out of the equation and make this badly needed money available right now, without silly strings attached," said Cullen.

He pointed out the irony of being in Prince Rupert on the day of the federal funding announcement.

"This community continues to struggle with the economic devastation of failing fisheries; Prince Rupert families need money today, not tomorrow, so they can retrain for the future."

Meanwhile, North Coast MLA Gary Coons said the problems are much bigger than Harper seems to realize and required a greater response from Ottawa, especially with 1,800 people having lost forestry jobs in British Columbia in the last month.

"There's nothing in today's announcement for local forestry workers or communities that have been devastated by our struggling forest industry. There's nothing that even acknowledges the crisis in our forest sector. This is simply an attempt to blackmail the other political parties into voting for the budget," he said.

"We needed immediate financial aid to hard-hit, one-industry communities and this package falls far to short."

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