Steady as she goes for spring budget: Leef

The federal government’s spring budget shouldn’t contain any major surprises, says Yukon MP Ryan Leef. Don’t expect to see federal purse strings loosen.

The federal government’s spring budget shouldn’t contain any major surprises, says Yukon MP Ryan Leef.

Don’t expect to see federal purse strings loosen, but there shouldn’t be as many difficult cuts as there were last year, Leef told reporters yesterday.

“What we’re looking at is another budget that’s going to have just a steady course towards deficit reduction and a return to balanced budgets while maintaining our commitment to not raise taxes and create jobs and opportunity and foster economic growth in Canada,” Leef said.

“The worst is probably behind us,” he said.

Leef held an evening of public pre-budget consultations at his office in Whitehorse on Tuesday night. Constituents trickled in and out, voicing their concerns and wishes about the next federal budget coming in March.

While many of last year’s cuts were hard for Yukoners to swallow, Leef was particularly surprised by vocal opposition to the closure of Whitehorse’s Canada Revenue Agency office.

“I guess I probably underestimated the level of service provided there and what level of service people used the CRA office for,” said Leef.

After the office closed in October, Leef began offering tax services out of his constituency office as a temporary measure, but he concedes this isn’t sustainable. He’s now looking at alternative solutions.

Yukon’s municipalities are pushing for money for “critical infrastructure needs, like sewage, and recreation facilities,” said Leef. “We know our isolated communities can be a challenge. We want to give our youth some activity and opportunity.”

Education is another priority for the Yukon in the next federal budget, said Leef.

“Yukon College has jumped on board with that. They’re trying to make job-specific training available for Yukoners,” he said. “Yukon First Nations are very interested in seeing their citizens have opportunity and accessibility, not just in the unskilled labour force, but to grow and train into the semi-skilled and highly-skilled labour market. They want to take advantage of these opportunities.”

Rick Karp, the president of the Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce, remains concerned about Parks Canada cuts, the closure of the CRA office and the withdrawal of a federal immigration consultant. He plans to raise these issues with Leef on Wednesday.

Karp pointed to a Canadian Chamber of Commerce report issued in December called Developing the Economic Potential of Canada’s Territories. That report also highlighted the importance of educating Yukon’s First Nations, something Leef said will remain a priority for the federal government.

One education program that came out of last year’s federal budget is called the Northern Adult Basic Education Program, a pot of money that was given to the three territories. It addresses the same concerns raised in the Canadian Chamber of Commerce report, said Tosh Southwick, Yukon College’s director of First Nations Initiatives.

The program, paid for by Ottawa, helps northerners with everything from basic literacy to pre-employment training.

“Our experience at the college is that programming needs to be made available, relevant and accessible. Our goal is to bring that programming out to the communities,” said Southwick.

In November, federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty said the 2013 budget would not cut transfers to the provinces and territories. He also said it would   leave payments to individual Canadians like seniors and veterans unaffected. Together that makes up about two-thirds of the federal budget, Flaherty said, leaving program spending and services as the only place to tighten up.

You can comment on the upcoming budget through an online survey at the Department of Finance Canada website, at www.fin.gc.ca.

Contact Jesse Winter at

jessew@yukon-news.com

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