In my last column, I discussed some of the issues we heard about at House Finance Committee hearings. I’d like to mention a few more of the thought-provoking ideas discussed on the second day of hearings in Edmonton.
Both the National Cattle Feeders Association and the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association focussed on rural infrastructure funding. While the federal government concentrated its initial infrastructure spending on large urban centres, mayors, councillors and regional district directors across South Okanagan-West Kootenay are constantly reminding me: “Don’t forget rural districts and municipalities.” Many government programs require significant staff expertise and time to apply for grants, something that small towns often can’t afford.
Small towns would prefer a funding model similar to the gas tax, recognizing that small communities face the same infrastructure deficits that large urban centres do and know best themselves how infrastructure dollars should be spent. Whether it is for aging roads, bridges, trails, sewers or buildings, we need a system to tackle these problems that have been downloaded on towns and regional districts that have little tax room to pay for the full bills.
The Alberta Federation of Labour and Dr. Paul Kershaw of UBC testified about different aspects of the social determinants of health. Dr. Kershaw pointed out that, while the Canadian economy is twice the size that it used to be in 1976, young people today are struggling. They are facing impossibly high housing costs, precarious work situations and heavy debt from the price of post-secondary education. Yet government spending is strongly skewed to older Canadians: an average of $33,000 per person each year for seniors but only $12,000 per year for those under 45.
We must invest in affordable housing and childcare initiatives that will help raise children and young families out of poverty. Those investments will allow young Canadians to be more productive, and keep more of them out of hospital, out of the social welfare system and out of the justice system, more than paying for the initial investment.
A witness from the Alberta pulp and paper industry talked of the difficult situation facing that industry in particular and the forest sector in general. The demand for paper is falling as people turn to electronic media, and competition is increasing from mills in tropical regions that take advantage of fast-growing trees and low wages. In response to a question from the Conservative committee members about the impact of carbon taxes, the pulp and paper representative pointed out that his industry generally likes the carbon market as most mills are self-sufficient in terms of energy, selling power back into the grid, and many receive grants through carbon credits as well.
He, like representatives of the oil, gas, and mining industries I’ve heard from at Natural Resources committee hearings, said he recognizes that a carbon tax is the best way to set a market signal to shrink our carbon footprint, as long as border adjustments are in place to help keep Canadian companies competitive. I’ll discuss the forest industry in more detail in my next column. I would appreciate any comments or questions you might have; please email me at Richard.Cannings@parl.gc.ca.