Finance Minister Jerome Kennedy didn’t actually shrug when he showed up to talk to reporters about the federal budget, but he might as well have.
There wasn’t a lot in Ottawa’s spending plan that affects the province and nothing for Kennedy to get worked up about.
“It’s not an exciting budget, but it’s not one that has any great surprises for us either,” Kennedy said.
As politicians parsed the federal budget, the consensus was ho-hum.
Liberal Leader Dwight Ball said it will take some time before we really know what it all will really mean, because there were very few details about what the government’s new plans are.
“We were sitting in the caucus room, and someone said it was like a hide-and-go-seek budget,” Ball said. “Obviously we’ll go looking for more details later on, and I think we’ve learned our lesson from last year when we saw the huge omnibus bill that came out of the budget.”
The centrepiece of federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s budget is a new plan for a “Canada Job Grant” which will combine money from Ottawa with equal contributions from provinces and private businesses to pay for retraining of workers.
The new initiative still needs to be negotiated with provincial governments and won’t come into effect until 2014, but it looks like a $5,000 contribution for training will need to be matched by $5,000 from the provincial government and $5,000 from the employer.
Kennedy said he’s happy to look at cost sharing such a program, but he said that’ll be more in Advanced Education and Skills Minister Joan Shea’s realm to negotiate.
“At this stage, there’s no decisions that have to be made, but I’m sure Minister Shea will provide you with information over the next few days,” Kennedy said. “We get so little money that anytime we can receive money with matching funds, we generally invest in that.”
Up in Ottawa, the province’s federal representatives were reacting to the budget, too. Opposition MPs were a bit more worked up than their provincial counterparts, but Liberal MP Gerry Byrne called it a “Seinfeld budget” meaning that it’s a budget about nothing.
“It’s definitely not an election year budget. There’s very little to see, very little to hide, very little to promote on behalf of the government,” he said. “There’s no additional money for health care. There’s no signaling that the health-care accords, which are set to expire, will be re-negotiated.
“There’s movement to sort of explore new options. For all practical purposes, health care does not exist in this new budget.”
New Democrat MP Ryan Cleary didn’t like what he saw either. The NDP doesn’t like reductions in infrastructure spending and a lack of money for the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency.
Cleary was also particularly upset to see more cuts to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO).
“We don’t know what will happen, but there’s $108 million more in cuts to DFO,” he said. “They’re not specific on where the cuts are going to come to DFO, but the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans has already been cut to the bone. So they’re going to take away bone.”
Cleary also said that the budget has money for rail service to remote communities, but not cash for Marine Atlantic.
On top of that, he seized on a small change that may irk folks in St. John’s. The budget may force hospitals and municipalities to raise parking fees.
“This budget requires that GST/HST be paid on all parking — currently public sector bodies are exempt,” Cleary said. “This will make parking spaces or facilities operated by a municipality or a hospital taxable.”