Jim Flaherty

Jim Flaherty

Tories focus budget on growing jobs

The 2014 budget has no tax hikes or additional deficit spending

While the federal Conservative government says it has created a million jobs since the recession of 2008, the NDP opposition says that “hundreds of thousands more Canadians are unemployed today than before the recession.”

The comments came Tuesday after Finance Minister Jim Flaherty announced this year’s budget in the House of Commons.

Canada, though, has the strongest job record of industrial countries, Pitt Meadows-Maple Ridge-Mission MP Randy Kamp, said in a release.

And while “too many Canadians are still looking for work,” the Economic Action Plan 2014 will keep growing the economy in this area, he added.

The budget has no tax hikes or additional deficit spending, Kamp said.

However, it did have measures intended at least to grow jobs.

Those steps include the Canada Apprentice Loan, to provide apprentices in Red Seal trades access to more than $100 million in interest-free loans a year, as well as a Job Matching Service to pair job seekers to employers, $55 million for paid internships for new grads, and $75 million for the Targeted Initiative for Older Workers.

Unlike the previous Liberal government, “who balanced the budget on the backs of the provinces, our Conservative government continues to grow provincial transfers to record levels,” Kamp said.

For B.C., those transfers work to $5.8 billion in 2014-15.

But Opposition leader Tom Mulcair said the government ignored his party’s suggestions of limiting credit card interest rates, capping ATM fees and restoring the ecoEnergy Retrofit program that gives rebates for energy smart home renovations.

Kamp said tougher auditing is taking place on charitable groups, not just environmental groups.

“Rules regarding charities and political activities are long-standing and Canada Revenue Agency is requiring more detail on political activities to ensure that the laws are being respected.”

Mulcair though said the Conservatives “would rather attack public servants, environmental groups, unions and anyone who dares criticize their short-sighted policies, than help Canadians.”

The federal budget also included a new search-and-rescue tax credit honouring “quiet heroes,” like revered North Shore rescue leader Tim Jones, who died last month.

Eligible ground, air and marine search-and-rescue volunteers will be able to claim a 15 per cent non-refundable credit on up to $3,000 if they perform at least 200 hours of service a year.

It’s largely a stand-pat budget that modestly shrinks overall federal spending, records a $2.9-billion deficit this year and sets up a projected $6.4-billion surplus in 2015 as the Conservatives seek re-election.

Federal finance minister Jim Flaherty conceded some may see the budget as “boring,” but added he takes that as a compliment.

There are no notable tax cuts, but the tobacco tax is going up, adding $4 to the price of a carton of cigarettes or about 40 cents to a $10 pack. That will generate $685 million extra per year, while more than $90 million over five years will help the RCMP battle tobacco smuggling.

The federal government released few details in the budget on what it will do next on two fronts of concern to consumers – its past promises to inject competition into the mobile phone market and to reduce the temptation of cross-border shopping.

Flaherty said Ottawa will temporarily cap domestic wireless roaming rates until there’s a decision by regulators on further rules to protect customers.

He also pledged legislation to address the price gap between cheaper consumer products in the U.S. and what Canadians pay at home.

How that will work is unclear, but the minister told reporters the Competition Bureau would be empowered to investigate and punish unjustifiable price discrimination.

“When Canadian families spend their hard-earned money, they should be confident that they are being treated fairly in a competitive marketplace,” he said in the budget speech.

Ottawa reduced tariffs on baby clothes and some sports equipment last year, but is still assessing whether retailers actually passed those savings along to customers.

Flaherty also pledged $1.5 billion over 10 years for post-secondary research and innovation in areas that create long-term economic growth.

Job training continued to be a major theme, as the Tories seek ways to fix the skills mismatch between what the unemployed can do and what employers need.

Flaherty said the contentious $300-million-a-year Canada Job Grant program will roll out April 1, regardless of whether provinces and territories agree to participate.

In law-and-order policy measures, the government signalled it will regulate the use of Bitcoin virtual currency to thwart its criminal use for money laundering or financing terrorism. It also pledged to create a DNA-based missing persons index.

Savings in the budget are to largely come from charging federal retirees more for health benefits and through a freeze on departmental spending.

Canadian Taxpayers Federation director Greg Thomas said this year’s budget may turn out to be balanced already since Flaherty inserted a $3-billion “revenue adjustment for risk” provision that gives padding that may not be used.

He noted Ottawa is forecasting $30 billion in cumulative surpluses over the next five years, setting the stage for promised tax cuts starting next year.