Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Budget blahs

Student, businessman and volunteer find little to get excited about

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By his own admission, it isn't a flashy budget.

And Finance Minister Stan Struthers wouldn't get any argument from a group of budget-watchers gathered at the Free Press News Café Tuesday afternoon to watch as he delivered his first-ever fiscal framework.

Among the group -- a recent university grad, a food bank volunteer and a small businessman -- there was an overall feeling of 'meh', a notable lack of outrage or delight at the NDP government's incremental approach.

Right off the hop, Struthers touted the province's reputation as an affordable place to live and his own government's balanced response to the economic downturn, one that eschewed deep cuts or irresponsible spending.

"Are they talking about themselves when they talk about irresponsible spending?" quipped Richard van den Broek.

At the table, pens started scribbling when Struthers got to the fuel tax hike and the increase to the basic personal exemption. And there was some talk about the real merit of capping class sizes at 20 pupils in the early grades.

But the most passionate comments erupted over Manitoba Hydro, and the province's reliance on the job-creating potential of new northern dams and Bipole III.

Dave Mouland, a retired aerospace worker who now volunteers with Winnipeg Harvest, wondered just how many long-term jobs will really result from the new dams.

Van den Broek, whose company does a lot of business with Manitoba Hydro, said the idea of new dam construction as a boon to local industry is a mixed bag. Many construction jobs will go to Manitobans, but the high-wage technical and managerial jobs tend to go to out-of-province or even foreign contractors.

On a lighter note, the back-patting references in the budget speech to the return of the Winnipeg Jets earned a bit of a collective eye roll.

"Let's put an end to that," Mouland said.

 

DAVE MOULAND

Mouland, 63, took early retirement from his job with an aircraft engine overhaul company. Now he's a daily volunteer at Winnipeg Harvest and active on transit issues. He has no formal political affiliations.

 

Budget trickle-down

Mouland's ears perked up at the news older homeowners like him would get a break on school property taxes. But that mini-windfall has already been offset by the city's property tax increase, Mouland said.

 

Budget wish list

"I would have liked more incentives for small business. There's nothing in there to make small business very happy." He also would have liked some measures to make it easier to live downtown.

 

Post-budget provincial outlook

"I'm not very optimistic, that's for sure," Mouland said.

 

SARAH COOPER

A recent University of Manitoba grad with a degree in city planning, Cooper, 33, is the housing and community development researcher at the Manitoba office of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. She has no formal political affiliations but leans to the left.

 

Budget trickle-down

"I don't actually know that much will change for me," Cooper said. She doesn't own a car, so changes to the fuel tax and the vehicle registration fees won't affect her. Many of her friends are caught in the city's rental crunch, though, so news the province will continue to invest in more rental units was good to hear.

 

Budget wish list

Cooper wished the budget held more provisions for the poor, including more aggressive action on affordable housing and a boost to welfare rates, which have been frozen for years.

 

Post-budget provincial outlook

"It seems sort of the same as it's been before. I'm not optimistic or pessimistic," said Cooper. "I always hope for a really long-term vision, 10 or 20 years, and that never really happens because of election cycles."

RICHARD VAN DEN BROEK

Van den Broek has been president and general manager of Dynamic Machine for the last six years. He tends to be undecided until late in elections, but normally votes Conservative provincially.

 

Budget trickle-down

The boost to the gas tax alone will probably cost van den Broek an extra $250 a year, and he's not confident all the revenue will be earmarked for infrastructure as the government has promised. "Can I be a skeptic and say 'They always say that'?"

 

Budget wish list

There are three key things van den Broek hoped to see in the budget speech but didn't -- a detailed commitment to reducing government inefficiencies, a real discussion about moving school taxes off property and reductions to red tape.

 

Post-budget provincial outlook

"I'm very optimistic about the province, but I don't know that the provincial government is necessarily responsible for that," said van den Broek. "I see, from a business perspective, we're maybe not chugging on all cylinders, but close to it."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 18, 2012 A1

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