The Federal Budget presented Tuesday night was billed by pundits and pollsters as a “coming attractions” for this fall’s election, but Guelph MP Lloyd Longfield is billing it as good news for seniors, and people concerned about city infrastructure.
Taking questions from Guelph Politico Wednesday morning, Longfield said that he conducted a town hall by phone with 3,500 people last night, and that most questions concerned specific budget provisions for older members of the community, and federal assistance for infrastructure.
On the phone from his office in Ottawa, Longfield called the investment in local infrastructure as “the mayor budget.”
Among the announcements was a one-time transfer from the Gas Tax Fund, which will be paid directly to municipalities who are concerned about the slow process that government infrastructure funds are being transferred though provincial governments in Ontario, and elsewhere.
“Getting a $2.2 billion top up from the Gas Tax can now get directly to municipalities,” Longfield said. “I’ve been fighting against the Provincial government for three months trying to bypass them to get infrastructure going.”
For seniors meanwhile, the budget features changes to the Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS) that would allow low-income seniors to keep more money from employment income before benefits are clawed back by the government; $5,000 up from the previous $3,500 annual limit. The changes will go into effect in July 2020.
The ofter major piece for seniors is a change to the advanced life deferred annuities, or ALDAs. Now, seniors will have the option to defer annuities from register retirement savings accounts to age 85 instead of the present age 71.
Keeping it Green.
Along with the new Gas Tax funds, there’s also $350 million in new funding for the Federation of Canadian Municipalities’ Green Municipal Fund, which offers grants, loans and loan guarantees to encourage investment in environmental municipal projects.
“We funded a study last year that included a need to make funds available to retrofit homes, but we couldn’t get the Province to open up Green Infrastructure Funds,” Longfield said. “Through the FCM we’ve taken the excuses away.”
Longfield takes credit for one particular new budget piece, a credit of up to $5,000 for the purchase of a new electric vehicle. The MP says he met with dealers at the Guelph Auto Mall to talk about a federal program after the province canceled its rebate program last year. “I didn’t think we could cover the whole cost, but they asked if they could get some incentive,” Longfield said.
However, businesses that buy EVs will be able to write off the entire cost of the vehicle for the first year from their business taxes. “I didn’t ask for that one,” Longfield said with a laugh.
Home Loans Made Easier.
The marque item from the budget was the First Time Home Buyer Incentive, $1.25 billion over three years where applicants with a combined income of $120,000 or less can essentially get an interest free loan to put towards 10 per cent of the purchase of a new home. This is geared in particular to millennial home buyers trying to break into expensive housing markets like the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area.
“I met with Guelph realtors and the part they were asking for was insurance for mortgages, and this is insurable through the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC),” Longfield explained. “That frees up to $250 a month that will help homebuyers get furniture for that house, for example.”
Longfield admits that the First Time Home Buyer Incentive doesn’t solve the housing crisis, but he hopes other initiatives he’s working on will lead to further opportunities.
“We need more seniors homes, we need more apartments, and I’ve got a couple of projects for seniors homes coming up,” he said. “We need to get more flow through the whole system, and we need more supply obviously.”
Take Your Medicine.
Though not exactly a national pharmacare strategy, the budget did take some steps that way with new initiatives from the Advisory Council on the Implementation of National Pharmacare including the creation of a Canadian Drug Agency for bulk-buying of drugs and a national strategy on high-cost drugs.
Longfield says that the government is taking a similar approach to creating a national pharmacare strategy that it took to developing the carbon tax, realizing that some areas in Canada have different coverage, and different levels of coverage, for drugs already.
“Some provinces and territories already have pharmacare programs,” he said. “We have to look at the gaps and then tailor the gaps that are different in each province.”
In the meantime, “We’re going to look at the high cost of drugs for rare diseases,” Longfield added. “The high cost is actually killing people who can’t buy their meds, so we’ll deal with the worst of that first.”
Other budget items include $595 million to support journalism that will include a 15 per cent tax credit for digital news subscriptions; $597 million over 2 years for the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority; $1.2 billion over five years for border security and modernization, and for the asylum system; a personalized Canada Training Credit of $250 a year (up to $5,000 lifetime) for job retraining; $3.25 billion to Indigenous Services for water quality, child welfare, education and other supports; and, interest for student loans will be set at the prime rate, while graduates will enjoy a six-month grace period interest-free.
The budget also pledged to create a nation-wide network for high-speed internet by 2030 with a particular focus on rural areas where two million Canadians do not have access to reliable internet service.
As for other items in the budget, Longfield’s pleased that the work on the Canadian High Arctic Research Station is on track, and on budget.
Longfield also pointed to the $25 million over five years allocated to start a pan-Canadian suicide prevention service, including a 24/7 bilingual crisis support from trained responders using talk, text or chat depending on the users choice. He says it’s “only a start, but it adds to what we’ve already done on mental health.”
Finally, Longfield noted that the $134.4 million in new funding to create a new national food policy for Canada will be appealing to both the University of Guelph, and the City of Guelph, which is presently developing a circular food economy model for the Smart Cities Challenge. The food policy will focus on giving Canadians better and easier access to healthy food options, and fight food insecurity.
You can check out the full budget document for yourself below.