Public sees strengths, weaknesses in budget

Andrew Robinson
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On Monday, The Telegram spoke to people with varying backgrounds to ask what they were looking for in the provincial budget.

With the unveiling of Budget 2012 Tuesday, The Telegram went back to those people for their thoughts on its content. While there were some disappointments, most of those people reached Tuesday had at least something good to say about the $8-billion budget.

Given the loss of $1 billion in revenue from the federal government as a result of the expiration of the Atlantic Accord agreement, John Fisher of Port Rexton said producing a budget with a deficit may have been unavoidable.

“I think in all fairness, the $1-billion cut tied his hands,” he said, refering to the budget handed down by Finance Minister Tom Marshall, “and I think, given that, on balance this is not a bad budget.”

Fisher said he was pleased to hear of a continued focus on the skilled trades sector through a new journeyman mentorship program and the expansion of the apprenticeship wage subsidy program. However, he said he would like the government to do more to promote a diverse economy that is less dependent on natural resources.

Fisher said the fact funds allocated for tourism marketing were virtually unchanged is acceptable, given that its $15.6-million budget is far greater than what it was several years ago.

Rev. Paul Lundrigan of the Religious Social Action Coalition said he was pleased to see the province’s Poverty Reduction Strategy was given a boost of $11.3 million to a total of $150.8 million, and said Newfoundland and Labrador is one of the few places with such a strategy.

However, he said the strategy still needs to move beyond providing assistance while leaving its recipients impoverished.

“There are good short-term solutions there,” he stated in an email to The Telegram. “However, our economy is skewed in such a way that they are becoming long-term ways of life for far too many people.”

Lundrigan’s group is advocating for increased wages to deal with the cost of living. He said an improved pharmacare program would also be beneficial for seniors, who sometimes have to make the choice between heating their homes and buying medications.

Memorial University student Meghan McCarthy said she was pleased the tuition freeze for post-secondary education was kept in place, although she had hoped the government would consider expanding its non-repayable grants program.

She was also pleased to see funding was maintained for women’s centres and other groups dealing with violence prevention and social awareness.

However, as a member of Climate Justice St. John’s, McCarthy was hoping to see more from the government on sustainable transportation options and diversifying the economy to rely less on non-renewable resources.

Jim Lester of Lester Farms Inc. in St. John’s said he was pleased the federal-provincial Growing Forward program for agriculture will remain, despite losing $1 million in federal funding.

However, he would like to see the government do more to encourage growth of renewable resource-based industries such as agriculture.

“We can’t have growth at the expense of saddling future generations with more debt,” Lester said.

Meanwhile, St. Lewis Mayor Annie Rumbolt said as far as she is concerned, Tuesday’s budget offered nothing to coastal Labrador. She gave no further comment.

Arlene Michelin from the Combined Councils of Labrador and Theatre Newfoundland and Labrador general manager Gaylene Buckle could not be reached for comment.

However, Buckle likely would not be pleased to learn funding for Newfoundland and Labrador Arts Council grants were reduced by $30,000, to $2.11 million. It was one of the issues she brought up in speaking with The Telegram Monday.

Twitter: TeleAndrew

Organizations: Religious Social Action Coalition, Lester Farms, Labrador and Theatre Newfoundland and Labrador Newfoundland and Labrador Arts Council

Geographic location: Port Rexton, Newfoundland and Labrador

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