Canada’s heritage minister says Canadians should like what they see in the federal government’s new budget.
James Moore, Conservative MP for Port Moody-Westwood-Port Coquitlam, and the government’s senior representative for B.C., was in Kelowna Friday touting the budget, saying it addresses numerous issues of importance for Canadians, including steady, stable funding for healthcare, investment for infrastructure, improved environmental assessment practices, measures to address skilled worker shortages and protection of Old Age Security by pushing the eligibility age to 67 from 65 starting in 2023 to keep the program sustainable.
But while Moore used most of his speech to the Kelowna Chamber of Commerce to recite a long list of achievements by the Conservative government over the last six years—much of it achieved during two stints as a minority government when it complained it could not get anything done because of the Opposition—he said with its first budget as a majority government, the Conservatives allayed fears it would turn Canada hard right.
“We showed we are not the ideological right-wing government that some were trying to scare you into thinking we are,” said Moore.
Instead, he said, the Conservatives used the budget to build on many of the moves it had made previously, such as increasing Canada’s trading realtionships with other nations, improving an economy that is recovering better than most from the recent recession and addressing needs of Canadians in a host of other areas.
While Moore did not mention any of many the cuts proposed in the budget during his speech, asked later about planned reductions to the federal civil service of 19,400 workers, a 10 per cent cut to the CBC, and cuts to other departments like environment, the minister said every organization and department in federal government was challenged to make reductions.
He said his own department, heritage, is facing a 42.2 per cent cut, but he added that cut will only affect the bureaucracy.
“My department is being cut 42.2 per cent, without touching a dime of funding for arts and culture, for community groups and for community celebrations,” he said during the speach, without mentioning the 10 per cent cut to the CBC.
He said the national broadcaster as asked if it could continue to operate with a five or 10 per cent cut, it said it could. SO the cut was made.
As for moving the eligibility for OAS to 67 from 65, Moore defended the move saying other nations, such as the U.K. and the U.S. have already done the same thing. And, he said, the move had to be made in Canada because the number of working people in relation to retired people is dropping in this country.
“When OAS was developed, we had eight workers for every one retiree,” said Moore. “Today there are four workers for every one retiree. In the coming years its going to be three, then two, so this had to be done to maintain a healthy footing.”
But Liberal MP Joyce Murray, who was also in Kelowna Friday, disagreed.
Earlier in the day, following a meeting with Mayor Walter Gray and representatives of the chamber and Tourism Kelowna, said her party opposes the move to 67 for OAS eligibility saying it will make some seniors, particularly older, single women, poorer.
And she pointed to a report by the parliamentary budget watchdog that said problems with OAS will be only temporary and will not have an adverse impact if the program is managed properly.
“This will increase the gap between right and poor,” said Murray, MP for Vancouver-Quadra and B.C.’s former water, land and air protection minister in the B.C. Liberal government of former premier Gordon Campbell..
Murray said she did not feel the budget will help small business and called the country’s recovery from the recession a “jobless recovery.”
That was in sharp contrast to Moore, who claimed the number of people working in this country is now back to pre-recession levels.
Locally, the Kelowna Chamber of Commerce praised the budget Friday as one it feels will be good for Western Canada, as it addresses some specific needs, such as support for innovation, the move to get more skilled immigrants into the country and the new, simplified environmental assessment process.