Opening the spigot


To describe the federal Liberals’ first budget, as “massively” beneficial to New Brunswick is to engage in the sort of hyperbole that typically induces sudden, involuntary eye rolling among the non-politicos in the reading public.

Still, House Leader and Member of Parliament for Beausejour Dominic LeBlanc may have a point. In interviews with the Saint John Telegraph-Journal this week, he said, “There will be greater flexibility in how (infrastructure) funds are allocated. One of the things that we heard is that many of the smaller communities cannot match the one-third model.”

He was referring to the standard agreement that divvies up the cost of any given public works project equally among Ottawa, the provincial government and municipal authorities – a regime that many officials in New Brunswick have repeatedly said they can’t afford.

Added LeBlanc: “It disproportionately disadvantages the smaller municipalities that don’t have the tax base. The provincial government, in the case of New Brunswick, will have difficulty on some of the larger mega projects that we are hoping to do in the next few years.”

So, he declared, “We’ll (Ottawa) pay more and there will be ways for the province to access money that’s more favourable than the current model. The one-third straight jacket will be loosened to reflect the financial need of some municipalities and provinces.”

Boil it all down, and it seems that the New Brunswick government will have access to more than $8 million in public transit infrastructure money (not a lot, but still better than a boot in the pants). That’s to say nothing about its share of the $2 billion Low Energy Carbon Fund, the $125 million Green Municipal Fund, whatever’s left in the former Harper government’s Building Canada Fund, and $52 million earmarked for three ferry services in the Atlantic region, including the perennially imperiled Saint John-Digby service.

Indeed, the munificence of the Trudeau government doesn’t end with bricks and mortar.

There’s the new Canada Child Benefit that will remit more than $8,000 a year to most New Brunswick families with two children under the age of six. Mr. LeBlanc predicts this measure, alone, will pour more than $200 million into the provincial economy over the next 12 months.

There are also changes to the Employment Insurance program – key to the economic well being of seasonally employed regions of the province. The budget effectively reverses the broadly unpopular restrictions imposed by the former Tory government in Ottawa on claims, commute times for work and wait periods for payments.

All of which leaves the strong impression that in the early spring of 2016, munificence is Mr. Trudeau’s middle name.

On the other hand, fellows like Scott Armstrong, the Conservative critic for Atlantic Canada, are not entirely offside when they question the Liberal government’s spending priorities (though sour grapes may be the federal opposition’s choice of liquor these days).

“For all their talk about creating growth,” Mr. Armstrong told the T-J, “there’s no talk about a jobs plan. I think it was recognized by everyone that infrastructure is a way to create jobs, but from looking at what they decided to do, they put their other spending priorities out in front and infrastructure and job creation on the back burner.”

In reality, the larger risk this budget carries is the uncertain effectiveness of its measures to re-energize regional and national economies before the next inevitable recession, when the $30-billion deficit it now engineers balloons to some unspeakable level.

At that point, what’s now described as “massively” beneficial might well be viewed somewhat differently.

The devil, of course, will be in the details.

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