Balanced budgets and unbundled cable TV sound good in a throne speech, but local business and political watchers wonder how achievable the Harper government’s goals are.
A topic of conversation after Wednesday’s speech involved the Conservatives’ promise to balance the federal budget by 2015.
Additionally, Gov. Gen. David Johnston teased legislation that requires balanced budgets during normal economic times and enforces strict timelines for restoring balance in the event of a crisis.
While the Kamloops Chamber of Commerce appreciates Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s focus on business, president Bob Dieno takes issue with the new legislation.
“My question is, who is going to determine when it’s good and bad times? Who is going to make that call?” Dieno asked.
Had the throne speech suggested federal and provincial panels discuss the issue, Dieno would have more confidence in the legislation. As it is now, it’s too vague, he said.
“To me, it is just another piece of legislation that will go bad,” he said.
Dieno likes the idea of a balanced budget, but believes recovery is up to the economy, not someone’s interpretation, he said.
Kamloops-Thompson-Cariboo MP Cathy McLeod said there’s specific language on how the government will return to a balanced budget.
As a whole, this is an important piece of legislation, she said.
“We’ll balance the budget during normal economic times — that’s a really important piece,” said McLeod.
To balance the budget, the speech promised a frozen federal budget, restrained government hiring, and reformed spending systems and public service pay.
Former federal NDP candidate Michael Crawford said such actions wouldn’t need to be taken if the government already balanced its budgets, pointing out the Harper government having amassed the largest deficit in Canadian history.
To reduce that, the Conservatives will make dramatic cuts to spending and civil service. Crawford said the federal government should discuss with the provinces how this can be done with minimal impact.
“They aren’t sitting down with them and working out a plan,” he said. “We can expect some very severe cuts but worse, we can expect cuts in areas where provinces might be reasonable about it.”
McLeod expects little impact on federal operations in the region.
“We’ve been looking at deficit reduction actions for a couple of years. Most that might impact our riding have happened already,” she said.
The Conservatives closed down the federal agricultural research station on Ord Road earlier this year.
One promise the Tories might have a hard time keeping is unbundling TV channels and cutting cellular roaming fees.
Thompson Rivers University political scientist Terry Kading said the public could turn on Harper if the government doesn’t follow through, or follow through fast enough.
“It can also be used against them by the other parties if they’ve made these commitments and nothing came of them,” he said.
McLeod said she regularly hears concerns about access to high-speed broadband and expensive roaming fees from her constituents.
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WORD ON THE STREET
Dan Saruk: They know they tax us to the hilt. It might be a way to keep a little more income in people’s pockets. I know cablevision and cellular rates are pretty high if you compare it to the States or Europe.
Catherine Firkins: A lot of the stuff (Stephen Harper) seems to promise us these days seems to be things he never follows through on. I think we have problem with a lot of people in politics.
Allan Neilson: I don’t think they are really serious about doing anything. I think those issues are raised and promises made in the throne speech to take attention away from other issues.