The federal government released its 2012 budget on March 29 in Ottawa. The 498-page document’s main talking points were arguably the decision to nullify the penny, and raising the age for old age security (OAS) from 65 to 67.
This year’s budget was outlined as a big picture plan that focuses heavily on jobs and training, more specifically long-term growth and prosperity.
Here in Northern Manitoba, the major concerns surrounding the budget likely lie with how will First Nations benefit or suffer from this year’s budget, along with how will the mining industry be affected.
A strong focus has been put in to education and training for the 2012 budget, and First Nations will reap the benefit of that. $275 million over three years has been proposed for both elementary and secondary education in First Nations communities.
Reserve communities will see some financial support for their infrastructure, as $330 million has been designated for water treatment and waste water utilities.
These two fund allotments are new money for this year’s budget, that go alongside the nearly $10 billon dollar budget that the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada carries.
Minister of State for Transport Steven Fletcher, Tory MP for Charleswood-St. James-Assiniboia, says that a plan is also in place to help First Nations people living on reserves to access the labour force.
“This is a commitment to improve initiatives of on reserve income assistance, while encouraging those who can work to access training so that they can be better equipped for employment,” said Fletcher, “that is something that we have been committed to for quite some time, and over $400 million is invested annually in to aboriginal skills and training and development.”
Over $300 million dollars has also been allotted to support Inuit and First Nations post-secondary studies.
The natural resources sector remains a priority for the federal government, which Fletcher explains, will be of interest to mining communities as well as First Nations.
“We’re very keen on developing Canada’s natural resources, and obviously First Nations communities will have a large interest in that,” said Fletcher, “Canada’s north provides significant economic employment and business opportunities for aboriginal people in the natural resources sector.”
Efforts have been put forth to further develop Northern remote and rural communities, by adding incentive based funding for medical students to come and work in the north.
“We’ve introduced a student loan forgiveness program for $4,000 a year for up to $20,000 for medical students who would go in to remote and rural communities to work,” said Fletcher, “and if they’re attending accredited medical schools they qualify for $8,000 annually for up to $40,000.”
The government has also put forth a plan to connect rural and remote communities via the Internet, in hopes of further connecting the country.
“We’re going to invest $225 million in to extending broadband connections and coverage to as many under serviced areas as we possibly can,” said Fletcher.
While the federal budget can be broken down it to nuts and bolts for hours, Fletcher stressed that the important thing to look at is the big picture, and what is being done to create opportunities moving forward in a tough economic time.
“We’re trying to create jobs, growth and long term prosperity in a difficult situation,” said Fletcher, “that includes helping to create high-value, well paying jobs, encouraging entrepreneurship, while also creating opportunities for young Canadians, First Nations, newcomers, and the unemployed. We know we now have the opportunity to have a plan in place for the next three and a half years and to watch it develop.”