Another austere budget to match Ontario’s recently tabled budget, Canada’s Economic Action Plan for 2012 aims to “enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of government operations, programs and services” as part of a plan to balance the budget and reduce debt. The first thing to go? Pennies. The federal government is putting a stop to wasteful penny production. It will also dismantle the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy–but that’s not what’s trending at number two on Twitter right now (it’s #penny, incidentally).
The federal government is not backing away from financial support for municipal infrastructure. With Building Canada expiring in 2014, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities urged Minister Flaherty in pre-budget meetings to put a new long-term infrastructure plan, and a new generation of federal-municipal funding programs, in place. His answer is the Community Infrastructure Improvement Fund, $150 million over two years to support repairs and improvements to existing small public infrastructure facilities. The new Fund, managed by regional development agencies, will go toward projects on a cost-shared basis in partnership with municipalities, community organizations, and not-for-profit entities. Projects will be chosen based on a combination of factors, including shovel-readiness and potential economic benefits, including job creation.
In the wake of Attawapiskat, the federal government has also earmarked $330.8 million over two years to build and renovate on-reserve water infrastructure and support the development of a long-term strategy to improve water quality in First Nations communities.
Other infrastructure spending includes $99.2 million over three years to help the provinces and territories with the cost of permanent flood mitigation measures undertaken for the 2011 floods; $105 million in 2012–13 on a cash basis to support VIA Rail Canada’s operations and capital projects; and $27.3 million over two years to support the divestiture of regional ports and the continued operation and maintenance of federally-owned ports; and $85.6 million in funding for capital projects and other modernization initiatives at the Ports of Montreal, and in Saguenay and Sept-Iles, Quebec.
The new budget will also support a faster and more flexible economic immigration system, partly to fill a rising demand for workers out west. In his budget speech, Flaherty said Canada’s natural resources are a “massive” asset. The oil and gas, mining and forestry sectors represent about 750,000 jobs. On top of funding to further explore reserves of diamonds and minerals, Canada will spend $165 million over two years on reforming the regulatory system in the resource sector. The goal is to streamline to Environmental Assessment process so that it’s “one project, one review.” This has been a long time coming, and it’s a controversial decision. But not as controversial as the decision to kill the penny.