By Lawrence Powell
If it didn't create jobs or stimulate the economy, it stood a good chance of feeling the axe, West Nova MP Greg Kerr told a group of business people last week at a post-federal budget luncheon at the Annapolis Basin Conference Centre in Cornwallis.
Kerr was updating members of the Digby and Annapolis Royal boards of trade, the Bridgetown and Area Chamber of Commerce, and several other business interests including Mike Adams, Infrastructure and Commercial Market Manager for Bay Ferries.
"I don't apologize that it's pro-business," Kerr said of the recent budget. "Now it's up to business to invest in growing the economy. Only the private sector can do that. If it doesn't we'll be in trouble."
Kerr said the budget not only aims at Canada's direction for the next three years, but at the next generation, adding that he expects there will be adjustments necessary down the road.
Noting that the Stephen Harper government has reduced more than 140 taxes since coming to power, Kerr said businesses can create economic growth that gets people working and thus paying more taxes and hence more government services.
He said Canada won't require drastic economic measures such as European countries require, but did caution that getting out from under two years of stimulus funding is necessary.
He said Canada has tried to avoid the European reduction of programs and its attendant pain. But he stressed that there is no returning to pre-recession times and anyone believing that's possible is living in a dream world.
He said global competition is brutal and countries like Brazil, India, and China are becoming extremely sophisticated in marketing. "Young people understand it," he said. "They have a better grasp than people my age. Young people are gearing up to work with the Chinese."
He said the next three years will set the trend.
Kerr explained that it's not the government's job to create jobs but rather create the climate in which jobs can be created. "That's why we didn't budge on corporate taxes," he said. "If they do well they pay us more money."
He said 82,000 new jobs in March, rivaling American figures, proves that the Harper government's economic plan is working. He credited the $60 billion stimulus funding for projects that would have taken place eventually anyway, for helping increase economic growth. He said half of that deficit is now gone and that by 2015 will be down to $1.8 billion. The MP also credited Canada's banking system for creating a stability that attracts foreign investment.
Kerr said the recent budget targeted every department and agency to the tune of five per cent and such a level of reduction leads to smaller government and less duplication. He said red-tape reduction and simplifying government will cost almost 20,000 federal government jobs over the next three years. And he noted that traditionally the term 'red tape' implied that the tape was protecting something. "If you remove it there may be a risk."
He said some government programs will disappear but questioned the relevance of programs started 30 or 40 years ago. He said adjustments to EI are aimed at getting more people working.
In response to questions, Kerr said the Katimavik program won't be reviewed, noting it cost from $25,000 to $28,000 per participant. He said in pre-budget consultations Katimavik was not a high priority with youth.
On the other hand, Kerr said he believes the Canadian Cadet program is safe despite cuts to the Department of Nation Defense. He said it's his understanding that the DND cuts will involve very modest civilian changes and reduction to supports for the Canadian Afghanistan mission. He said there is no move to reduce the military or the Cadets -- that train at the Annapolis Basin Conference Centre.
Kerr did say Industry Canada's decision to halt funding to the Community Access Program (announced a week after the budget) came as a surprise but noted that C@P was not designed to last forever but that a review is possible. He also said the New Horizons program is not gone although applicants should expect possible reductions in funding. Coincidentally, Kerr said news on local New Horizons applications had been received that day and calls would be going out that night or the next day.
Defending cuts to CBC, Kerr said that corporation was treated no differently than other departments, adding that government is not out to end the broadcaster. He said CBC has to take a good, hard reflection on what to do, and those upset about the cuts ask CBC what it does with its money. “I’m not convinced that they can’t save a lot of money,” Kerr said. He did point out that government has no control over how CBC meets reductions and has no control over programming. He did suggest that CBC might have unused real estate assets that could be sold off.
Kerr said that trimming federal civil service jobs might not have a major impact on West Nova and that administrative jobs would be targeted first. “It may be three years before we know the result,” he said. “I’m not anticipating a lot of job loss.”
In response to a question on incentives for people to move to areas of work, while rural economies are in decline, Kerr said with the recent shipbuilding contracts for Nova Scotia, people might be moving to Halifax, but not Alberta. He said the area must look at what it has and grow those opportunities. “Turf protection is an encumbrance,” he said.
He said the shipbuilding opportunity should be incredibly important to the province fore the next 30 years with huge opportunities down the road.
“Once you get west of Halifax you have to fight every day of the week,” he said. “The flip side is what do we have that we can grow?”
Kerr told those gathered that they shouldn’t think of last Wednesday luncheon as a one-of.
“The challenge is out there and I’m willing to work with you,” he said.