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Federal budget something of a balancing act, says MP

The new federal budget is one that provides a long-term view for Canada which should help keep the country competitive in international markets and help reduce our deficit, according to Kitchener-Conestoga Conservative MP Harold Albrecht.

“[That is] the big thing that you’ll see different in this budget from a lot of budgets from the past, especially in minority years,” Albrecht said earlier this week of the budget that was presented on Mar. 29.

While Albrecht does admit that there is very little in the way of direct benefits to the residents of Kitchener-Conestoga, he did say that his constituents should feel the trickle-down effect of the overall strategies the government will take in terms job creation, the encouragement of innovation and investment and research.

For months speculation has run high over what the 2012 budget would present to Canadians, and while the budget contained fewer austerity measures than some pundits speculated it would, some notable measures were tabled by Finance Minister Jim Flaherty.

The federal government expects a deficit of more than $21 billion in 2012/2013, but has promised to balance the books and return Canada to a budget surplus by 2015 – the same year as the next scheduled election.

“It may be a coincidence, but it’s something that we’ve targeted whether we were a minority or a majority,” Albrecht said. “We’d like to eliminate it next year, but we can’t.”

To accomplish that goal, some 19,200 federal public sector jobs will be cut over three years, the age of eligibility for Old Age Security will gradually rise from 65 years to 67 beginning in 2023 while the retirement age for federal public servants will rise from 60 to 65 for people hired in 2013, Canada will review its participation in some international organizations, and the mint will stop issuing new pennies by the end of this year, saving some $11 million annually.

Federal officials have also said they would help mining and other developments by reducing the regulatory burden on them, such as capping the time for regulatory reviews at 24 months and by introducing a new “one-project, one-review” system for environmental assessments which would prevent dual federal and provincial reviews from occurring simultaneously.

While these review changes have drawn some criticism from environmental groups who are worried that the Harper government is looking to downplay the environmental review process, Albrecht said that Canada will continue to be good stewards of the environment.

“This is in no way undercutting the environment. I think in many ways you’ll see it improving it because you’ll have a more well-defined timeline,” he said. “You’ll have one review for the project [and] that review will be rigorous. There is definitely not a weakening of the environmental regulatory system.

“I think a key factor in not only the resource sector, but manufacturing, is getting rid of a lot of the red tape and the obstacles that are put in the way,” he added.

Albrecht also addressed the issue of Old Age Security, saying that the federal government was not balancing the books on the backs of seniors, as was suggested by new NDP leader Thomas Mulcair last week, but that the realities of Canada’s economic and demographic situation demands these changes in order to ensure that the OAS program is viable for future generations of Canadians.

“In 1970 we had roughly seven people working to support each person on OAS. Today it’s down to four. By 2030 it’s projected to be slightly over two people supporting every person on OAS,” Albrecth said.

“The other factor is that people are living longer and healthier. In 1970 the average age was 69, today it’s 79.”

He also stated that the OAS changes would not occur overnight starting in 2023, but rather be phased in gradually to allow workers the chance to adjust.

The MP was particularly pleased to find provisions in this year’s budget to deal with suicide prevention, a problem which Albrecht drew attention to last fall when he tabled Bill C-300 requesting support a national suicide prevention strategy.

The budget calls for the establishment of a new network of mental-health professionals, with a particular focus on suicide prevention and in identifying and treating post-traumatic stress disorder.

“As the minster was reading the budget I was flipping through. That was the first thing I was looking for, to see if there was anything in there. I’ve been championing that for a long time and I’ve spoken to him personally on a number of occasions.”

The unveiling of the federal budget was ill-timed for most Ontarians, who were subject to their own provincial budget just two days earlier, one that called for dramatic spending cuts and austerity measures to help tackle the projected $15 billion deficit that the province is facing this year.

Albrecht can sympathize with residents, saying that while to time of belt-tightening may be upon all of us, the situation could be much worse and we only have to look across the Atlantic Ocean to see how bad it could be.

“Greece, Italy, even Britain with their huge cuts to education. We’re going to experience some pain, but nowhere near the extent that many other G7 countries are going through.”

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