COLUMN: From the Hill -- Ideas for Improvement
Last week I was the NDP representative at the House of Commons Finance Committee’s pre-budget consultation hearings in British Columbia and Alberta. We heard from about a dozen witnesses each day, all with good ideas on how the federal government could help Canadians, their businesses and their communities through the 2017 budget. I’d like to highlight a few of these issues and ideas.
The only BC stop on the committee’s tour was in Kelowna. The first brief there was from the BC Wine Institute, representing an industry that has become a powerhouse in Canada, with BC leading the way. There are now over 260 wineries and 930 vineyards in BC, creating about 10,000 jobs. Wine consumption is up in Canada as well, but as a country we differ from other wine-producing areas in that most of our consumption is of imported wines—only 32 percent of the wine we drink is produced in Canada. The Wine Institute had several recommendations to shift this, but the single change that would make the biggest difference would be to convince all provinces to open their borders to domestic wines from other parts of Canada.
The First Nations Financial Authority provides First Nations across Canada with low interest, flexible loans to finance projects that create jobs and build capacity. First Nations are at a disadvantage in many ways to other borrowers in that they cannot easily put up property as collateral for loans, as land is held communally on reserves. The FNFA program has been so successful—about a third of Canadian First Nations groups have borrowed funds through it—that they are asking the government for additional monies to top up their capital base.
Two groups talked about the need for funding green energy initiatives. The Low Carbon Partnership is an alliance of several groups that have been very successful in helping businesses and communities reduce their carbon footprint. They talked of investments needed to build a green economy that would create good jobs for the thousands of oil patch workers that are now out of work. The Green Building Council had a similar message, emphasizing that the building sector—particularly that involving large buildings–provides Canada’s biggest opportunity to meet our carbon targets. We could reduce our emissions by 40% simply through retrofits of and installing solar panels on large buildings.
Another two witnesses talked about the growing funding gap around integrating refugees into Canadian society. Although the government succeeded in its pledge to bring 25,000 refugees into Canada last year (and has added 10,000 more already this year), it continues to cut programs that help these new Canadians with the basic skills needed to get jobs and become productive citizens. Language programs are the most serious need—there are 5200 new permanent residents that are on wait-lists for English-as-a-Second Language classes in BC alone. Many of these are mothers who need child care to attend classes, but funding for daycare options has been cut as well, so these woman stay at home with their children where they remain isolated from their new communities.
I’ll present more ideas from the Alberta hearing in my next column. If you’d like to get in touch, please email me at Richard.Cannings@parl.gc.ca.