Thursday, January 29, 2009

Flaherty's fixation on fixer uppers leaves Cullen cold

While they probably had the talking points already prepared, NDP MP's fanned out across the country to provide their feedback on this weeks Conservative budget.

In NDP ridings across the nation, the prospect of Jim Flaherty's economic recipe to tackle the oncoming financial storm didn't seem to resonate very positively with Jack Layton's fellow guardians of the left.

In Skeena-Bulkley Valley, MP Nathan Cullen was quick to get his thoughts to the media, with interviews set up with both the Northern View and the Daily News, outlining his disappointment with the tone and direction offered by the Conservatives, built along stimulus packages which Mr. Cullen and the NDP don't believe will be the best path to follow.

His thoughts were featured on line on the Northern View site on Tuesday and in Wednesday's Daily News as the front page headline story.

Finance Minister does not offer hope to our communities claims MP Nathan Cullen
By George T. Baker
The Daily News
Wednesday, January 28, 2009
Page one and three

Well at least Rupertites can build a deck.

In what is being called a "missed opportunity" by critics, a budget that was given luke-warm praise at best was unveiled by Finance Minister Jim Flaherty yesterday.

It was attacked for having few real solutions for struggling municipalities trying to get access to funding grants for infrastructure improvements.

As expected, Skeena-Bulkley Valley MP Nathan Cullen came out firmly against Flaherty's $34 billion gamble to rebuild the national economy through stimulus packages.

Cullen could not believe that the budget concentrated on helping Canadians rebuild their homes rather than focusing on municipalities' ability to rebuild their infrastructure.

"I don't know what municipalities are to do at this point. They are over a barrel if this budget passes because the poorer get poorer and the richer get richer," said Cullen.

Cullen was in disbelief that Flaherty would focus on home renos when, in his estimation, the day called for serious availability of funding for municipalities.

"When your economy is hurting, by definition, there is less tax base in your community. This budget does not help communities in that situation."

According to the budget, the proposed Home Renovation Tax Credit would provide a temporary 15-per-cent income tax credit on eligible home renovation expenditures for work performed, or goods acquired, after Jan. 27, 2009, and before Feb. 1, 2010, pursuant to agreements entered into after Jan. 27, 2009.

Projects that are listed 'tax exempt' are renovating a kitchen, bathroom, or basement, new carpet or hardwood flooring, building an addition, deck, fence or retaining wall, a new furnace or water heater, painting the interior or exterior of a house resurfacing a driveway and laying new sod. The credit may be claimed for the 2009 taxation year on the portion of eligible expenditures exceeding $1,000, but not more than $10,000, and will provide up to $1,350 in tax relief.

And the goal was to allow for more construction projects for carpentry firms around the country, allowing carpenters to stay employed as housing starts around the country slow.

"I just don't know how Prince Rupert and Terrace, and all down the line, are able to access any of this without raising bonds or raising the tax level in their community, which hurts them further," said Cullen.

Hurting municipalities may seem to be left wanting. The federal government has made $4 billion in funding available for provincial, territorial and municipal projects but will only cover up to 50 per cent of any given project, meaning the provinces and municipalities will have to come up with the rest.

B.C.'s Minister of Finance, Colin Hansen, said he was actually pleased with the announcement regarding the HRTC, claiming that it would help the lumber industry.

"It will create additional demand for wood product across Canada," said Hansen.
Hansen also said that hurting communities might not need to come up with the matching money on some infrastructure projects.

"We recognize as well that not all communities have the ability to come up with the one-third dollars. So, we're looking at a lot of infrastructure initiatives that we are prepared to fund and that would not require participation by the cities," said Hansen.

Some non-governmental organizations were not jumping for joy with the budget but many said the budget was a good start.

Association of Mining and Exploration BC President and CEO Gavin Dirom gave the budget a mixed review but was specifically not impressed with the lack of infrastructure help for communities.

He said there are, right now, 25 mining projects in B.C. and that infrastructure has been key in getting those up and running. For communities dependant on raw commodities it becomes more important to provide the necessary roads and hydroelectric facilities to facilitate projects. "

With infrastructure near-by it enables that to possibly happen. From the community perspective that perhaps is a missed opportunity," said Dirom.

Cullen agreed and said this is a bad idea for municipalities in his riding because they are not exactly flush with cash.

"If your municipality is in the black, with millions of dollars to spend then you can access some of these things and leverage more funding. We are not in that situation in the Northwest and in most municipalities in Canada," said Cullen.

Cullen says budget 'a missed opportunity'
The Northern View
Tuesday, January 29, 2009

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty unveiled a federal budget on Tuesday that contained projections of an $85 billion deficit over the next five years and, while the NDP had said they would vote against it before the budget was tabled, MP Nathan Cullen said he was still thoroughly unimpressed with the what he heard in the House of Commons.

“In a general sense I would call this a missed opportunity and, in a way, a cynical budget. There is no help for the unemployed and there is no vision for where the country is going…It is a failed opportunity with no vision and no hope,” he said in a media call following the tabling of the budget.

“Money to renovate your cottage? What planet are these guys on? I have never seen such an unfocussed budget in all my time as a member of Parliament.”

The federal budget includes $7.8 billion for housing, more than half in the form of a renovation tax credit of up to $1,350 for each family. The remainder is intended for social housing for seniors, the disabled and aboriginal people, as well as low-cost loans to municipalities to fund housing.

Flaherty announced the extension of Employment Insurance payments for an extra five weeks for the next two years to cushion the blow for people losing their jobs in an international recession.

Federal tax cuts include an increase in the basic personal exemption amount to $10,320 for the 2009 tax year. The upper limits of the bottom two tax rates are being increased for 2009, meaning the first $40,726 of earnings will be taxed at 15 per cent, and earnings from there up to $81,452 will be taxed at 22 per cent. Income above that point is taxed at the highest federal rate, 26 per cent.

While noting that he is concerned that the portion on the Green Economy is only a half page in the budget document, Cullen said his biggest concern is that the money for infrastructure is still being tied to matching grants from municipalities and the province.

“During my economic forums I heard that people want the government to be a willing partner, and from municipalities there was a very clear message that they did not have the money to meet the requirements of these matching grants. Communities in a tough position are made worse by this while those that are prospering will be able to access this money, and that is not a formula for economic recovery. You don’t help a Whistler or Kelowna, you help a Hazelton or Prince Rupert, because they need the help,” he said.

“Municipalities are really going to be over a barrel if this is the budget that passes…I just don’t know how Prince Rupert or Terrace or communities down the line can access this money.”
As for the political implications, Cullen said that he believes, “Mr. Harper has been politically wounded by this budget. Perhaps fatally wounded.”

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