Canadian cigarette smokers and retired public servants might be taking the biggest hit in the federal budget announced on Tuesday, but MP David Wilks says Kootenay residents should be pleased.
“I’m elated — over the moon — regarding the announcement of an additional $391.5 million over five years to national parks,” the Kootenay-Columbia member of Parliament said from Ottawa yesterday, an hour after Finance Minister Jim Flaherty presented the 2014 budget to Parliament.
The money is earmarked for “the Parks Canada agency to make improvements to highways, bridges and dams located in our national parks and along our historic canals, facilitating better access to these national treasures,” according to the budget document.
Improvements to the Trans-Canada Highway within Glacier National Park are specifically identified in the budget.
“I look forward to working with the mayors of Golden and Revelstoke and MLA Norm Macdonald on this file,” Wilks said. “The end result should make travel through the park much safer.”
The avowedly business friendly Conservative government also promises to take on the “unjustified” price differences between the same products sold in Canada and the United States.
“This is an important issue to residents in Creston and area,” he said.
The budget promises to introduce legislation to prohibit unjustified cross-border price discrimination to reduce the gap between consumer prices in Canada and the United States.
Wilks said it isn’t clear how the legislation will work, but that it would help address the competitive disadvantage Canadian retailers often find themselves in against their American counterparts.
“StatsCan estimates that Canadian prices are about 25 per cent higher than the U.S., and that’s after adjusting for exchange differences,” said Wilks. “That’s unacceptable and we need to do something.”
Also of benefit to rural areas like the Kootenays is a new tax credit for search and rescue volunteers who perform at least 200 hours of service a year. Wilks said volunteer firefighting hours would be included in the calculation.
Interest-free loans to students working toward Red Seal accreditation in various trades will also benefit Kootenay-Columbia residents, he said, as will the expansion of tax incentives for clean energy generation.
“Communities like Meadow Creek and Trout Lake will benefit from the injection of $305 million over five years to enhance broadband service to rural and northern communities,” he said. “This should provide for greater opportunities in Yahk, too.”
Smaller amounts, but areas that Wilks described as being “close to my heart” are headed for the Special Olympics program and for a DNA-based missing persons index.
Cigarette smokers can look forward to a 24 per cent increase in taxes, which will rise from $17 to $24 per carton of 200 cigarettes. Retired public servants will now be required to pay 50 per cent, up from 25 per cent, of their Public Service Health Care Plan costs. The move is estimated to save $7.5 billion over the next six years.
Flaherty announced that the federal government is on track to balance the budget for the first time in about a decade in 2015.