The streak has been ended at seven. That's the key message the federal government has been keen to press home following the announcement of its 2015 budget after Canadian Finance Minister Joe Oliver posted a surplus for the first time since the ‘Great Recession' squeezed the life out of the global economy in 2007.
Introducing Economic Action Plan 2015 to the public last Tuesday (April 21), the feds followed through with their promise of balancing the budget a year ahead of schedule, projecting a surplus of $1.4 billion this year.
“Balancing the budget this year was absolutely the most important thing for us,” said local MP for Westlock – St. Paul Brian Storseth. “We said all along that we would be going into deficit with a plan on how to eventually get out of it. It's taken us (seven years), but at the end of the day we're here, we've balanced the budget and we've done it without hurting (our people and our infrastructure).”
It has been a remarkable turnaround for the feds who, in just a three-year period, have turned a $25.9 billion deficit into a surplus. In speaking to Storseth, he feels the Conservatives deserve a lot of credit for the way they have handled themselves since plunging into a deficit seven years ago.
“I think this has been one of the most transparent, best ways that Canadians have ever seen a government operate as it relates to climbing out of a deficit,” Storseth said. “Every quarter, we gave Canadians an update on how we were doing, while reiterating how exactly we were going to achieve (a balanced budget).”
He added, “Now that we're finally here seven years down the road, I couldn't be happier.”
Headlining what was an otherwise fairly low-key budget are changes to the annual contribution limit for tax-free savings accounts, almost doubling from $5,500 to $10,000; with extensions for Canadians providing compassionate care for a sick or dying relative also implemented. Under the previous system Canadians were entitled to six weeks pay. That has been increased to six months.
“The extension of compassionate care is something that I've personally been advocating for a long, long time,” Storseth said. “Anyone who has had a loved one diagnosed with a terminal illness knows that six weeks worth of pay is not enough, but with our government increasing that number to six months, that will be a big help.”
He added, “We have some work to do with the province to ensure people have jobs to go back to once the process is done, but this is a great first step. I truly believe this is something that will benefit every Canadian at some point down the road.”
With provincial transfer payments once again increasing, Storseth said he expects to see government spending continue in the Lakeland.
“In 2015, the province of Alberta will be receiving $5.5 billion in transfer payments,” Storseth said. “When I first got into government, Alberta was getting $3 billion from the feds and we all knew that wasn't fair. Now that we've moved to a per capita system, every Canadian and province is treated equally.”
Alberta has been the biggest beneficiary of that change, raking in an additional $2.3 billion per year in health payments and an additional $1.5 billion in Canadian social transfers, according to Storseth.
“That money can be seen all across the Lakeland. In Bonnyville specifically, we have the extension of the Bonny Lodge facility. In Cold Lake we're seeing it through the development of (the City's) social housing program. The Government of Canada has stepped up and become a real partner in this region and it's great to see.”
Another topic Storseth was pleased to see the feds address was that of making things easier for small businesses across the country. In announcing the budget, Finance Minister Oliver pressed home a new small business tax rate, with the feds looking to bring that particular levy down from 11 per cent to nine per cent by 2019.
“I'm really excited by the reductions that have been announced in small business tax, it once again displays our government's commitment to hard-working Canadian families,” Storseth said. “These people are the backbone of our economy and the backbone of our communities. They are the job creators in our area and I'm really happy to see us give them a break.”
The budget did not come without its critics though, with Liberal leader Justin Trudeau and NDP chief Tom Mulcair saying the budget does nothing for the average Canadian, with the latter slamming Prime Minister Stephen Harper for “stubbornly clinging to his view that the best thing to do for society is help the wealthiest.”
“He is going to take from the poor and give to the rich. He's sort of a reverse Robin Hood. That's been his theme for a while,” Mulcair said. “The whole TFSA issue is great if you've got $50,000 in your back pocket, much in the same way that income-splitting is great if you're having trouble making payments on your second BMW, but it does nothing for a middle class that is actually earning less today than it was 30 years ago.”
Trudeau announced that the Liberals would not be supporting this latest federal budget, going so far as to call it a political document designed to secure another term for the Conservatives when a federal election is called later this year.
“This budget is not a plan for jobs and growth for the middle class and those looking to join it,” Trudeau stated in an address at the House of Commons on Wednesday (April 22). “The budget is a political document produced to that end. It is a vision for a Conservative election campaign; it is not a vision for Canada.”
The pair also criticized Oliver's decision to drain $2 billion from the federal government's contingency fund. Mulcair says the fund should have been left alone - a move that would have seen the feds remain in the red for an eighth straight year.
“The contingency fund is there for real emergencies. That's why it's called a contingency fund,” Mulcair said. “It's not something you tap into on budget day because you're missing a couple of billion dollars.”
He added, “The only thing they're interested in is appearing to balance the budget (in an election year). The only contingency they're worried about is the election.”
Despite the criticism, Storseth stood behind his party and lauded what is his last budget as MP for the region.
“I'm ecstatic with this budget,” Storseth said. “We're going to continue to make life easier for those Canadians that we feel are still overtaxed. Middle income, people with families, seniors and small business people will get a break (with this budget).”
He added, “I say this with a hint of sarcasm, but surprisingly enough, the more money you put back in Canadians' pockets, the more they will go out there and work and create more revenue for the government. This is what a conservative budget looks like, this is the conservative way of doing things.”