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MP David Wilks touts highway upgrades in federal budget

Kootenay-Columbia MP David Wilks. - File photo
Kootenay-Columbia MP David Wilks.
— image credit: File photo

The 2014 federal budget should provide small boosts to Revelstoke through investments in trades training, forestry and upgrades to the Trans-Canada Highway through Glacier National Park, says MP David Wilks.

The budget was presented in the House of Commons by Finance Minister Jim Flaherty on Tuesday. Flaherty himself called the budget "boring", acknowledging it didn't provide any additional tax cuts or significant spending.

The Conservative government is aiming to eliminate the deficit ahead of the 2015 election and this budget is designed to bring them closer to that goal.

Opposition MPs criticized the budget for not doing enough to help struggling Canadians and small communities.

In an interview, Wilks, the Conservative MP for Kootenay Columbia, touted several specific budget items as being beneficial to Revelstoke residents.

Most significantly, he pointed to the $391 million the government has committed over the next five years to upgrade infrastructure in the country's national parks. Wilks said he hopes that about a quarter of that will go directly to highway upgrades in Glacier National Park.

"That's what I'm going to try and pitch for," he said. "I think that's a reasonable amount based on the project I'm trying to pitch here."

He said he will be planning a meeting between the CEO of Parks Canada, the mayors of Revelstoke and Golden, and MLA Norm Macdonald to create a plan.

The money, while significant, is a far cry from the $1–$1.5 billion Wilks said he asked for to twin the stretch of highway in a presentation to senior cabinet officials prior to the budget being tabled.

"Realistically that's a big chunk of money but I'm happy with this," he said. "It doesn't happen often where a project that you put forward to the Minister of Finance actually gets mentioned in the budget. It's a pretty significant commitment."

Wilks pointed to several other budget items that should be of noted to Revelstoke. He noted the creation of the Canada Apprentice Loan program, which provides up to $4,000 to registered apprentices in Red Seal trades courses.

"The forestry industry is looking for a lot of trades people," he said. "If they're Red Seal, it can certainly help."

Wilks also mentioned the $90.4 million over four years committed to continue the Investments in Forest Industry Transformation program, which helps the development of new technology in the industry.

He touted a new $3,000 tax credit for Search and Rescue volunteers who accumulate at least 200 hours of duty. It can be combined with hours accumulated as volunteer firefighters, which could help out some people who volunteer with both organizations.

One thing that is not yet clear is how a freeze on departmental spending will affect Mount Revelstoke & Glacier National Parks.

On Thursday, Wilks issued a news release re-iterating his talking points, saying the government was focused on the economy. "We’re moving forward with a positive plan that will help create jobs and grow our economy, all while keeping taxes low and remaining on track for balanced budgets in 2015," he stated.

Southern Interior MP Alex Atamanenko (NDP) said the budget falls short on taking significant action on the challenges facing Canadians today.

“There are 300,000 more unemployed today than before the recession, many seniors are struggling and families are finding it increasingly difficult to make ends meet,” he stated in a news release.  “It appears that the Conservatives are delaying any new ideas until 2015, the election year.”

He did acknowledge some positive points, including the investment in broadband infrastructure, $390 million being spent on food safety programs and the creation of the apprenticeship loans program. However, he added, there was no support for rural infrastructure.

“There is no commitment to a small communities component which was a key ask of Canada’s municipal leaders," he said. "Also, I am worried that the Building Canada Fund has no real criteria which could leave municipalities at risk of missing this year’s construction season."

 

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