Thursday, February 24, 2005

Budget misses pine beetle aid, other B.C. needs

VICTORIA - It's hard to see much evidence of the federal Liberal's BC Dream Team in this week's budget.
Overall, the Liberals seem to have cobbled together a budget with a little something for everyone, although the fine print shows the impact will be smaller, and slower to come, than you might at first think.
But this was the first budget that should have borne the fingerprints of the Liberals' highly touted Dream Team, the high-profile MPs like Ujjal Dosanjh and David Emerson who were recruited to make sure B.C. matters.
And despite the promises, there were relatively few signs that the province has registered in Ottawa.
There a couple of clear positive developments. The Vancouver-based Asia Pacific Foundation gets $50 million, a one-time chunk of cash that's intended to make it self-sufficient. The foundation should continue to help B.C., and Canada, take advantage of opportunities for trade and other ties with Asia.
And UBC got an extra $50 million for Triumf, the cutting edge particle physics research centre.
But the budget had noting specific for pine beetle aid, as Finance Minister Colin Hansen noted. The infestation is a natural disaster on the same level as the collapse of the East Coast cod fishery. That failure resulted in more than $1.5 billion in federal aid to the communities affected.The situation isn't as dire here, in part because there are other opportunities for forest workers and their communities. But B.C. still faces an immense crisis. Once the infestation has run its course - which will end with the death of 80 per cent of the province's lodgepole pine - forest communities face a couple of decades with very little timber to harvest.
Action is needed now to prepare for the coming crunch in 12 to 15 years.
The province has taken relatively small step first steps, promising $101 million over four years. Only $16 million of that is for economic development work; the rest is for reforestation.
That's not nearly enough, and the province's slow start is in part due to the hope that money will be coming from Ottawa.
Emerson is in a good position to understand the issue. He's industry minister, the top political minister for the province and the former head of Canfor.
Emerson says the federal Liberals haven't forgotten the problem, and is continuing to work with the province and industry on the best way to help.
But words are one thing, and action - and money - are another.
There were hints of more specific news for the province still to come.
British Columbia has been lobbying to have the Ottawa-based Canadian Tourism Commission, an $85-million Crown corporation, move to Vancouver. That wasn't announced, but the commission got a $25-million funding increase, which could help pay for the move. Emerson is the minister responsible, and should be able to deliver.
The federal budget also failed to come up with any of the money Prince Rupert has been seeking to take its port to the next level. There is a big increase in money for border security, and infrastructure. But the emphasis, according to the budget documents, is on security, not money for projects like Prince Rupert's port.
It's not fair to expect the federal government to rain dollars down on B.C. We've seen the huge waste of money in other federal economic development programs, which leave taxpayers poorer and produce few results.
But the pine beetle infestation is a foreseeable natural disaster. It can't be halted, but we can act now to reduce the impact on communities, businesses and families. The federal government has an obligation to act.
And there are other investments needed in B.C. that would benefit not just the province, but all Canadians.
Paul Martin made a personal commitment to recognize legitimate needs in the province, and reduce our feeling of distance from a disinterested federal government.
The budget shows he has much more work to do.
Footnote: The lack of federal help in the pine beetle crisis should have British Columbians questioning the province's decision not to use some of this year's surplus - more than $2.2 billion - to establish a legacy fund to help forest communities deal with the coming crunch.


Anonymous said...

Emerson, Dosanjh and Owen also prominently promised Vancouver families before the June 2004 elections to make federal support for seismic upgrading of BC's schools a priority in Ottawa.

Oh well, at least they stayed out of missile defence!

Anonymous said...

It's also worth noting that the "$50 million in new funding for TRIUMF" wasn't close to what was requested. The lab proposed a five-year plan with a total budget of $278 million; the budget contained $96 million in base -- i.e. shutdown -- funding and another $126 million in "new" funding for a total of $222 million. That's not a small difference; that's a 20% shortfall at a time when the rest of the world is aggressively investing in research.

In a budget that squandered billions on tax cuts, the feds shorted TRIUMF by $56 million over five years. After investing tens of millions to upgrade the lab, Ralph Goodale denied them the funds necessary to staff the new facilities. This is not sound management.

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