For the most part, government watchers in Newfoundland and Labrador responded with a half-hearted shrug to news about the federal budget.
Charlene Johnson. — Photo by Keith Gosse/The Telegram
The St. John’s Board of Trade was basically happy, and the Federation of Labour was basically unhappy, and opposition politicians opposed, but none of it seemed particularly zestful.
“The good news is that there’s no bad news,” Finance Minister Charlene Johnson told reporters Tuesday evening.
The provincial government is still butting heads with Ottawa over the proposed Canada Jobs Grant, but there are plenty of other little tidbits that Johnson was happy to see.
The main thrust of Finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s seventh budget seems to be the unrelenting quest to return to surplus next year.
New Democrat MP Jack Harris couldn’t even get worked up about any of it.
Reached for comment, he said there’s really nothing to talk about.
“There’s nothing new, for example, on housing. Very few youths will be helped by the small programs that they have,” he said. “We’ve got, you know, 300,000 more people unemployed today than before the recession started, but there’s no real effects here.”
Harris said that he’s convinced that any big moves the Conservatives want to make on the budget will wait until next year, when the country will be gearing up for an election.
“They’re just really playing politics with the budget — sort of a do-nothing budget while at the same time, families are struggling across the country,” he said.
Liberal MP Scott Andrews seemed to want even more in the way of cuts; if Flaherty’s goal is to balance the budget, it can’t happen soon enough for Andrews.
“This is his seventh straight deficit. These are not even conservative budgets,” Andrews said. “He takes no action on trying to rein in gov-ernment spending.”
Sharon Horan, chair of the St. John’s Board of Trade, was generally pleased with the budget; she said the government seems serious about the board’s big priorities — controlling spending, addressing labour market issues and spending money on innovation.
“Of course, the devil is in the details,” Horan said. “We’re going to be spending the next day or so now looking at the actual budget in a bit more detail to see what all the issues are.”
Mary Shortall, the president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour, was definitely not happy with the budget.
She said she would’ve liked to see enhancements to CPP, reversal of the previous Conservative EI cuts and job training programs that go beyond the proposed Canada Jobs Grant.
Shortall said that there’s nothing wrong with a balanced budget, but it shouldn’t be such a single-minded priority.
“Balancing the budget is an issue, yes, for sure. But you don’t balance the budget at the expense of the citizens.”