Kenora MP Eric Melillo, Sioux Lookout Mayor Doug Lawrance comment on federal budget
Reeti Meenakshi Rohilla - Staff Writer
“Overall, my thoughts are that it’s a big budget, a lot of spending, and a big deficit to show for it… There’s no plan to get back to a balanced budget. So, that’s concerning for me,” Kenora MP Eric Melillo shared of the 2021 federal budget, which was delivered in the House of Commons on April 19 by Chrystia Freeland, Liberal Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance.
“One of the major things I was hoping to see was a pathway back to balance, because we know that with more and more debt accumulated, increases interest payments. As a result, we’ll be paying $40 billion a year alone on interests servicing our debt. That’s all money that could be going towards public services and programs that people in Sioux Lookout, people in our riding and across Canada, all rely on,” the Conservative MP added.
Melillo pointed out that he is cautiously optimistic about investment being made to aid the region’s tourism outfitters through the repercussions of the pandemic. “There’s a $1 billion package that has been announced. So, I’m cautiously optimistic about that because it’s the funding I was asking for, that we need. But, it’s all about the details of how they roll it out. Because, the government announced many support programs for businesses since the pandemic hit that were supposed to keep our tourist outfitter going…but, for different reasons weren’t able to qualify and they fell through the cracks.”
Sioux Lookout Mayor Doug Lawrance shared that the recently released federal budget contains items of interest to the Municipality of Sioux Lookout and the people living here. However, he added that the budget seems to have missed on immediate support for the local tourism industry.
Lawrance shared, “This is a decades old successful industry that continues to fall through the cracks of direct COVID support programs from both federal and provincial governments. To date, supports provided have not recognized this industry’s almost complete dependence on the American market, the seasonality of the business, that two years of business will be wiped out by the pandemic with border restrictions, and that the eventual re-start in 2022 will likely not be to pre-pandemic levels.
“Although the federal budget does not address the direct impacts from COVID on our region and the local tourism stakeholders, the Municipality of Sioux Lookout has initiated a pro-active approach and partnered with local, regional and provincial tourism stakeholders. The initiative has been supported by the Minister of Economic Development and Official Languages, Minister (Mélanie) Joly, through FedNor, Destination Northern Ontario, NOTO (Northern Ontario Tourist Outfitters Association) and Sunset Country, and NTAB (Northwest Training and Adjustment Board). We have been funded to conduct a Tourism Modification Project to inform all levels of government on the status of Tourism in Northwestern Ontario and what is needed for the industry to survive, recover from the pandemic and succeed again.”
Lawrance added, “As always with Federal and Provincial budgets, the devil is in the details and we will understand more about the budget and the local implications in the coming weeks and months.”
Melillo shared that there is a need to be better prepared for potential future waves of this pandemic, along with other crisis situations that could emerge in the future. He said, “Teeth of that plan are still missing,” to allow for a strategically detailed COVID exit plan. “We absolutely need to be working with drug manufacturers, so that we can have domestic production capacity of vaccines. We have to have a stronger domestic production of PPE, and the government should be supporting, rebuilding some of those strategic stockpiles that we should have been relying on when the pandemic hit.”
What the government is calling “a historic, new investment” in Indigenous communities is a pledge to spend over $18 billion to improve quality of life and create new opportunities for those communities. Melillo said that he also looks at this pledge to strengthen Indigenous communities, with cautious optimism. He added that an emphasis on reconciliation and supporting Indigenous communities is vitally important for this region.
Melillo said, “Again, the government has spent big and has announced a lot of funding in the past, but sort of hasn’t trickled down to where it needs to get to. The water advisories in many of the communities in our riding, the government has committed to attending to all the advisories, they’ve allocated so many dollars towards this… So, I’m happy to see that they are allocating support for Indigenous communities, but it’s all about how effective they are in rolling it out.”
Lawrance shared, “The Municipality and local agencies will review the budget to see if and how we can utilize federal plans and investments to end gender-based violence, support for youth, support for entrepreneurs from diverse groups, address systemic racism, lift people out of poverty, and the investments in Indigenous peoples and reconciliation.”
Melillo said that according to his calculations, “I think that the Liberals have sort of used COVID as the excuse in the need for stimulus. Well, that stimulus has accounted for only $12 billion of their deficits. So, I think that they’ve used that, sort of as an excuse to spend a bit carelessly, and the Liberals are of course trying to position themselves in the case of the next election, which is unfortunate, because we’re going through a crisis right now. We need to be focused on helping Canadians and not planning for the election, as they seem to be.”
Lawrance shared, “The federal commitment to make childcare more affordable for parents will help families and should help put more people into our local workforce. That is good news. Unfortunately, there is no commitment for operating dollars for day cares which continues to put pressure on the Municipality.”
Lawrance shared that housing and homelessness prevention are of great concern in Sioux Lookout. He added that the Kenora District Services Board (KDSB) would be following up on budget announcements to optimize any developments possible from this part of the budget. “It is our hope that both the KDSB and Sioux Lookout local Rapid Housing Initiative applications that didn’t make the first wave of approvals will be approved in a second wave following the budget.”
Lawrance shared, “While the announcement on long term care standards is positive, our 20-bed facility is well run. Our concern is with the number of local beds and this announcement does nothing to alleviate our dire shortage.” He stressed that Sioux Lookout Meno Ya Win Health Centre’s Extended Care Facility serves more than just the population of Sioux Lookout, including several First Nations communities.
Lawrance shared that he hopes proposed federal investments in broadband will help people within the Sioux Lookout area connect to higher speed internet services. He hopes this funding will focus on improving services for the poorly connected, rather than enhancing the connection of the already well connected.
Melillo shared his support in regards to converting FedNor to a standalone agency. He believes that this should enable FedNor to improvise from simply being a program, to coming at par with rest of the regional economic development agencies, to deliver better services.