OTTAWA - Last week the new Liberal Government under Justin Trudeau tabled its first budget. The budget is a true test of the government's ability to deliver on campaign promises and Central Nova MP Sean Fraser told The Journal in an interview over the weekend that he thinks the government has succeeded on that front.
"The budget represents, to me, implementation of a lot of the things we discussed during the campaign. And we are only in year one of the first term and already a lot of the election commitments are in the budget," said Fraser.
The government has listened to local concerns and taken information gathered at pre-budget consultations into consideration when formulating the budget said Fraser. "Some of the feedback we received has been implemented in the budget. You see recognition of the needs of rural areas and a major investment, and this is one thing I heard loud and clear in Sherbrooke, was the need for improved connectivity in rural communities. We've made a historic investment in the amount of $500 million to improve internet connectivity in rural communities."
The budget also puts investment in indigenous communities, especially focusing on potable water. There is money for agriculture, $70 million for research and development. And the promised changes to the Child Tax Benefit which will affect many families in the riding.
Another notable point in the budget are changes to Employment Insurance. Fraser noted that while 12 special areas of interest have been highlighted in oil patch provinces, the changes also make EI more flexible across the country as a whole which will benefit Nova Scotians. The wait time for EI has been decreased from two weeks to one week, and the 910 hour requirement for new entrants to the workforce has also been reduced. "Depending on your region and the needs that your region is facing, the program is going to be somewhat flexible.
"We're extending the working while on claim pilot project which is an important one. Because this is a real problem with EI that people have raised with me time and time again. The system seems to have historically been designed to discourage people from taking work. This program encourages people every step of the way to take work when they can get it...It's a unique program that I think will serve our region well given that our region depends heavily on seasonal industries."
Another issue addressed in the budget that has impacted Fraser directly is the repayment of student loans. "Post secondary education received a lot of attention in the budget....This one is a personal issue for me. We're going to refrain from requiring repayment of student loans until the graduate has obtained employment where they can earn more than $25,000 a year. This is something that has impacted me as well as many other people who have been educated in Nova Scotia and want to stay but can't afford to make their student loan payments based on the starting salary in Nova Scotia. I, like many others, ended up travelling out to Alberta for my early career work experience. Had I had the opportunity to walk into a job that paid well enough to pay my student loans, I would have stayed in Nova Scotia and this is true for many people. This is a program that isn't just going to help relieve student debt but it will help an area like ours retain young people and families that want to call Nova Scotia home." In addition to the changes in the loan repayment schedule there is also a fifty per cent increase to the Canada Student Grant program in the budget which will help low income students attend post secondary institutions.
Fraser concluded, "When I look at the budget as a whole I see it as a recipe for economic growth that is going to allow the private sector to create jobs. I think it is the right path that is going to help Canadians and improve our communities."