Job creation will be front and centre when the Conservative government tables the federal budget next week, External Affairs Minister John Baird said during his first visit to Kamloops on Wednesday.
Returning from Asia, Baird accepted an invitation from MP Cathy McLeod to join an economic roundtable at the Coast Kamloops Hotel. They met with a cross-section of interests, including representatives of the ranching, tourism, mining, business and education sectors.
“One of the things I think is essential is that ministers and MPs get around the country, do a lot of talking and get a sense of the issues in different regions of the country,” Baird said.
“What can we do to increase business abroad and increase prosperity here? What can we do better or what can we do to get out of the way?”
B.C. has made significant inroads into trade with China and there is greater potential in another Asian tiger, the countries of Southeast Asia, such as Malaysia and Vietnam, he noted.
The local input comes too late in the process — Finance Minister Jim Flaherty announced the same day that he’ll deliver the budget on March 21 — and won’t be part of this fiscal plan.
“I think the budget is in its final phase, but if anything compelling comes up, I can get on the phone with Jim Flaherty,” he quipped.
Budget legislation will once again be tabled in omnibus form, a longstanding practice of this government, he indicated, but it won’t be as substantial as last fall’s controversial bill. There will continue to be emphasis on achieving fiscal balance by 2015.
“I think the priority has got to continue to be job creation,” Baird said, adding that the economic recovery remains fragile.
On the topic of foreign affairs, Ottawa is pondering its next move in Mali, where it has been supporting French military efforts with the support of a military transport aircraft.
Harper said Thursday during a press conference with the visiting French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault that Canada’s contribution to the Mali military mission, a C-17 military transport, “will remain there as long as we feel there is a need.”
Harper does not want to see Canadian peacekeepers deployed to Mali and is more interest in looking at the option of humanitarian assistance and development, an aide said.
“Canada is going to continue to be involved in a humanitarian role,” Baird said. The largest challenge is humanitarian aid and in security, he added. A military role is not being considered, though Canada has provided financial support to African peacekeeping missions in the past, he said.
“Cabinet and caucus will have a wide-ranging discussion before we make any commitment,” he said. “We don’t take it lightly to take the Canadian Armed Forces abroad.
Baird was returning from a tour through Hong Kong, Singapore and Vietnam. B.C.’s lumber exports to China are booming, he noted.
While in Hong Kong, he gave a speech to large multi-faith group on religious freedom, a volatile issue in China. His department oversees the Canadian Office of Religious Freedom, which opened only last month, fulfilling a campaign pledge Harper made during the 2011 election.
KAMLOOPS DAILY NEWS/THE CANADIAN PRESS