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Federal budget focuses on jobs, growth
Federal finance minister promises to balance the books without cutting transfers, increasing taxes

Laura Busch
Northern News Services
Published Friday, March 22, 2013

After facing down the "worst recession in a generation," the federal government is promising to balance its books by 2015, federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty announced while introducing his budget plan for the 2013-14 fiscal year on Thursday.

It will do so without reducing the amount of transfer payments to the territory, including $1.2 billion this year in territorial formula financing, nor will it cut health or social transfer payments. Flaherty also promised not to increase taxes in the coming fiscal year, however, the federal government is tightening "tax loopholes," which Flaherty says should save the Government of Canada $4.4 billion over the next five years.

For NWT Finance Minister Michael Miltenberger, news that transfer payments will remain stable - with or without added revenue promised by a final devolution agreement - is assurance the federal government is living up to its promise to not "balance the budget on the backs of the provinces and territories."

"He made us a commitment 18 months ago now and he's honoured that here. Of course, we greatly appreciate that," Miltenberger said.

Highlights in the budget include the establishment of a Canada Job Grant to help fund apprenticeship programs, a re-vamped Building Canada Plan to improve transportation infrastructure, and a Venture Canada Action Plan to help Canadian entrepreneurs.

The Canada Job Grant aims to support apprentices, said Nunavut MP and cabinet minister Leona Aglukkaq.

Apprentices may apply for the grant, which would give them up to $15,000 per person for training - $5,000 provided by the federal government, $5,000 from the territorial government and $5,000 from the employer.

Miltenberger said the GNWT will be looking at how to take advantage of this federal funding to increase financial support for Northerners who wish to receive certification in skilled trades.

"In addition to that, we are going to be supporting the use of apprentices in federal construction projects and maintenance contracts," said Aglukkaq.

Following in the footsteps of the Building Canada Plan, introduced in 2007, Flaherty pledged long-term funding over the next 10 years for infrastructure projects. This includes $32.2 billion from an indexed Gas Tax Fund for transportation infrastructure and community centres, and $14 billion to support major infrastructure projects - of which $200 million has been earmarked for the Inuvik-Tuk highway.

"The budget focused on creating jobs and stimulating economic growth in a number of areas," said Aglukkaq.

In the NWT, several new mines are scheduled to come online by the end of the current decade, increasing the need for mine training programs in the territory, said Mike Bradshaw, NWT Chamber of Commerce executive director.

Federal funding cuts on March 31, 2012 through the Aboriginal Skills and Employment Partnership program have not yet been replaced, said Bradshaw.

"However, in general, the chamber feels this is a very positive budget," he said, citing the long-term funding commitments within the federal budget will give the private sector much-needed security.

Next, the House of Commons will go into four days of debate on Flaherty's budget plan. The official NDP opposition will then move for amendments to the plan, and then the Liberal Party will have a chance to propose its own amendments.

The proposed amendments and proposed budget plan will then need to pass through the House of Commons. At this point, Flaherty may introduce his budget implementation act, which would include any omnibus budget bills similar to the two passed through the House of Commons last year.

This is expected to happen in Ottawa after the Easter break.

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