On Monday of this week I read with dismay that the 80 year old Kamloops Daily News will cease publication within the next two months. I was immediately reminded of July in 2012 when many were equally saddened to learn of the final publication of the Merritt News. Community newspapers not only provide jobs, they also provide an important voice for citizens and often act as a forum on issues of importance to a region. Many of the comments and questions that I receive each week are often based directly on media reports, columns and interviews. In fact this week I can cite a recent example of the influence of local newspapers here in Okanagan-Coquihalla.
In a weekend newspaper article, one of our local Mayor’s was quoted as stating that he believes “that it's the federal government's duty to bring back some of the federal tax dollars into this community for the purpose of infrastructure”. Within hours of the column running I received both calls and emails from concerned taxpayers asking if Federal tax dollar transfers had been reduced or increased and by how much. Fortunately as a subscriber to the newspaper in question, I was able to find the article in question and provide the information back to the citizens who took the time to contact my office and share their concerns. For the record, here is that information.
Federal transfers to the Provinces in the upcoming fiscal year will reach close to $65 billion. This is actually close to a $3 billion increase over the past fiscal year and is 50% more money than was transferred to Provinces back in 2006. In other words Federal tax dollars transfers have actually increased significantly. In terms of infrastructure projects since 2006 over 43,000 projects have been funded across Canada with many in the communities of Okanagan-Coquihalla. Currently close to $70 billion is budgeted over the next decade towards future infrastructure projects. In contrast the previous government invested $10 billion over the entire 13 years they were in power.
Each summer I have travelled the riding on a listening tour; one of the items that has received ongoing support from many local Mayors is the enhancement of the Gas Tax fund for infrastructure. Initially conceived as a way for municipalities to create specified infrastructure projects, the initial feedback from communities is that it was too limited in terms of scope and investment to meet the needs of a specific community. Since taking office in 2006, our Government has doubled the Gas Tax fund, and also expanded the criteria to include roads, water infrastructure (a critical need in some communities) and public walking trails and corridors. The Brown Road upgrades in West Kelowna and Summerland traffic roundabouts with related sidewalks that include bus stops and lighting are good examples of these types of infrastructure. I was happy to vote in favour of making this 2 Billion a year fund permanent and indexed to inflation so that communities will know that they can count on stable and increased funding based on community needs, rather than endlessly chasing down grants du jour dictated from senior levels of Government.
The reality is that by all accounts transfers to the provinces and infrastructure spending has been significantly increased across the board. As a former city councillor I can recall waste-water, water improvement, and community centre projects among others that all received significant federal infrastructure dollars that were partnered with Provincial and local Government funds to ensure successful project completion.
The reason why I raise the issue of increased Federal transfers to provinces and significantly expanded infrastructure spending is due to the fact that as taxpayers it is your money and you deserve transparency from all levels of government on the spending of your tax dollars. Had a local newspaper not reported on this particular story from a local perspective many readers would have not been aware that transfers were in fact increasing and the absence of this information could be used as a means to attempt to raise taxes without a full accounting to local ratepayers. We should also be mindful that most newspapers are supported financially by advertisers in local small businesses. When a small business faces fiscal challenges often it is advertising and by extension newspapers that can feel the brunt of these economic realities. In some respects a community newspaper is somewhat of a barometer on the state of a community and the recent loss in Kamloops will be hard felt throughout the region and also in outlying communities such as Merritt and Logan Lake. Let us all remember to support our local media in 2014. If you have a comment, concern or question as always I can be reached via email 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.