Each year the Federal Government, along with the Provinces & Territories bring down the annual budget for the upcoming fiscal period. That is always a much anticipated day and typically a very involved week. Budget analysis, reactions and politics are all part of this process as budgets will often reveal expected announcements as well as the unexpected and sometimes even surprises. This year’s budget was no exception. From my own perspective there was one interesting surprise as my private members bill to allow the inter-provincial shipping of wine across Provincial borders directly to consumers (for personal consumption) will be expanded to also include beer and spirits. Given that Okanagan-Coquihalla is home to some excellent craft brewers along with a growing number of artisan distillers this is exciting news on the local level.
There are a number of other items in the budget that also stood out to me based on concerns I have heard from meeting with local citizens. One item is a $305 million investment to extend high-speed broadband internet service. Here in Okanagan-Coquihalla we currently have rural families with no internet service whatsoever– for these families, many who are farmers and run small businesses, this will bring new opportunities currently enjoyed by most Canadian households but not in many rural areas. It is estimated roughly 280,000 homes currently without service will soon have broadband access with this funding.
Another important investment is $222 million to implement new labour market agreements for persons with disabilities to help get skills training for available jobs. In addition is $11.4 million in funding to Community Works that will help persons with other disabilities including Autism Spectrum Disorders help participate in the workforce. In virtually every community throughout Okanagan-Coquihalla I have met disabled citizens who receive financial support from the Provincial Government and are eligible for an income earnings exemption that can further supplement household income. Unfortunately many citizens in this situation have expressed frustration that a lack of skills training creates a further barrier to securing employment. More skills training can help bridge the gap and create more opportunities for disabled citizens to access the workforce.
Budget 2014 also creates significant new investments in programs to help older workers stay in the workforce as well as programs to create internships in high demand occupations including positions in small and medium-sized businesses to help youth job creation. This is especially helpful for youth as often it is the first job that can be the most difficult to land.
Budget 2014 also creates a new tax credit for Search & Rescue volunteers. Last fall I joined with a group of Merritt citizens in a search & rescue effort looking for a missing father. The expertise and efforts of search & rescue volunteers makes a huge difference in many parts of Okanagan-Coquihalla in saving lives and at times extracting deceased family members to help bring closure when unfortunate accidents occur. A special thank you to all of our search & rescue volunteers.
Although these are just a few items in Budget 2014 that I have referenced in this week’s MP report there are over fifty more that given enough space I would have also included details about. On a Provincial level I can also pass on that transfers from the Federal Government to British Columbia will also increase in Budget 2014. Total major transfers to BC will be just under $6 billion in total. Overall this is close to a 60% increase of Provincial transfers compared to 2005-2006 under the previous Federal Government. If you would like more information on Budget 2014 please do not hesitate to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or toll free at 1-800-665-8711.
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Dan Albas is the Member of Parliament for the riding of Central Okanagan-Similkameen-Nicola.