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Federal budget good for Westlock, MP says

Budget tabled March 28

Apr 10, 2012 10:11 am | By Doug Neuman | The Westlock News

The 2012 federal budget reflects what Westlock and area residents are looking for, MP Brian Storseth said last week.

Tabled in Parliament March 28, the budget includes a deficit reduction of about $5 billion and suggests the deficit could be eliminated in 2015. It also includes some notable changes Storseth said should please his constituents.

These include immigration reform, capping the length of environmental reviews for major projects at two years, and raising the age of eligibility for old-age security from 65 to 67. Ultimately, he said, reducing the deficit is good news for Canadians. “I think this was a good budget. I think it struck a balance,” he said. “It looked at reductions in every department and restraining the growth of the civil service and giving taxpayers the best value for dollars, but at the same time continuing to focus on jobs and growth in our economy.”

Storseth said throughout the various consultations done in this area and across the country, residents expressed concerns about government spending and reducing the bureaucracy, and making changes to regulatory processes to benefit Canadians.

“One of the key messages we continued to hear was immigration reform, make sure we pay down the deficit, and get on the right track with long-term planning,” he said. “They were tired of minority parliaments and the short-term planning that had come from it.”

Immigration reform has been a controversial component of this budget, with the government effectively wiping clean the backlog of about 600,000 waiting to immigrate, and reforming the system so that employers can have more of a say in what kinds of employees will immigrate — effectively putting Canadians’ needs first.

“It’s certainly one of the things we heard in Westlock and throughout rural areas as we were doing budget consultations,” Storseth said.

Another highlight was capping the length of time for environmental reviews of major projects, such as the Northern Gateway Pipeline that would see Alberta’s oil head to the west coast. People in the Westlock area that Storseth has spoken are universally in favour of this project; he said he has not heard a single dissenting voice.

“To be honest with you, people were pretty much appalled at the length of time the approvals process takes. We already have one of the most stringent regulatory systems in the world.”

He emphasized the change was not meant to circumvent environmental regulations, rather it was meant simply to streamline the process to get these projects built faster.

Storseth also lauded his government’s decision to increase the OAS eligibility age from 65 to 67, a move he said was necessary considering the increasing proportion of retirees to workers.

The changes won’t be implemented for at least a decade, meaning the system Storseth said is currently “unsustainable” will exist in its current form for anyone currently 55 and older.

“Because we have taken the political will to do it now and do it the right way, I believe the system is going to be sustainable moving forward and that’s going to be a positive thing for future generations coming up,” he said.

A major highlight of the budget, which Storseth said emphasized “jobs and growth,” is cutting 19,200 jobs from the federal civil service. About one third of those will come from contracts that will simply not be renewed, with another two thirds coming from job reviews in the near future.

He added he doesn’t anticipate people in the Westlock are being affected directly by these cuts; they would mostly take effect in the capital region.

“It was a very moderate reduction,” he said. “You’re looking at a two per cent reduction to spending in the government of Canada, when a lot of our businessmen and farmers, over the years, have had to consistently look at five to ten per cent savings in their own businesses on a yearly basis.”

In terms of setting the country’s books straight, Storseth said this budget is a step in the right direction since the government projects running a surplus budget as soon as 2015/2016. He acknowledged, however, that with a federal debt nearing $1 trillion, a $5 billion deficit reduction leaves a long way to go.

That said, he said the budget will ensure growth and jobs that will allow Canada to keep its relatively low taxes while still addressing the debt problem in the future.

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