The budget did promise changes to MP pension rules, but there were few details. Conservatives insist the pension plan will be changed so that MPs contribute more, receive less and will have to wait longer to collect a pension. It sounds like the details haven’t been worked out yet. We’ll have to wait a bit longer to see how this plays out.
The government plans legislative changes to the Cdn Environmental Assessment Act and the National Energy Board Act to impose new timelines on environmental reviews of major projects. Where there is a joint panel reviewing the project - as with the Northern Gateway pipeline - the review deadline will be two years. Where the National Energy Board alone is doing the review, it will be 18 months. And standard environmental assessments will take 18 months.
Opposition critics and environmental groups worry the timelines will deprive the public of a full opportunity to engage on major resource developments, and will be most problematic when the projects pose the biggest threat to public health and the environment.
The government is also expected to raise the threshold for projects to be reviewed after being told by Cdn Environment Assessment Agency and the Auditor General that there are too many minor projects that take staff time for review.
The federal government will also allow provinces to take over reviews for resource projects in situations where it judges the province to have the capacity to do a review of the same standard that federal process would meet.
All the legislation will be unveiled in the coming weeks, likely in the overall budget implementation bill, a move which critics say would reduce debate on the specific environmental changes.
Parks Canada did not escape Mr. Flaherty's axe. Overall, Environment Canada will see its operating budget cut by 8 per cent. Parks Canada will be cut by $29-million a year, phased in over three years. There is no detail what impact that reduction will have. The government says it will be achieved through efficiencies , and consolidation of management functions. The budget created the Rouge River National Park but has not allocated money for it yet.
The budget raises the limit to $200 from $50 for residents who been out of the country for 24 hours. The exemptions for longer trips are going up as well – doubling to $800 for those who have been away for 48 hours. The changes come in June. This is bad news for Canadian retailers, particularly grocery and clothing retailers.
There were no Fisheries Act changes in the budget, and the Government has not confirmed there will be changes. A leaked document suggests Ottawa is looking at changing definitions around protection of fish habitat, and will instead require protection of specific species. Resource companies often complain about application of the act that forces them to make significant modifications to projects when they affect fish habitats. Environmental groups see this is a less strict approach, that will result in the destruction of important wildlife habitats. Expect changes when the government unveils other environmental legislation.
Answer from Bill Curry: We’re still waiting for the details on cuts, so it’s still a bit early to know for sure what the consultants achieved. The budget claims most of the savings will be found through things like “streamlining” and administrative changes. That’s pretty vague language and critics point out that departments have already been going to the “efficiency” well for several years now to find savings. I’m told by public servants though that some big savings were found in areas like having departments share financial administration and human resources services. So that kind of structural change involving several departments is what the consultants were supposed to deliver. We’ll see over the coming months how these departments will actually achieve their budget savings.
In a word: No. The government has not increased the credit or made other moves in that regard. In past budgets, it reduced ability of people to donate shares. It did have measures that it says will improve transparency where charities are also engaged in political advocacy - for which they can spend 10 per cent of their budgets. Critics see that measure as an attempt to intimidate environmental charities that have been critical of the government.
The federal government doesn't pay for nurses, not directly anyway. The provinces do. So cuts to Health Canada will have no effect. That said, the long term prospect for nurses remains good. As health care costs soar, governments will be looking to shift responsibilities from doctors to nurses.
The government announced so pretty significant changes to R&D tax credits. But the biggest changes affect large companies, not small ones. The 35 per cent refundable tax credit for Canadian-controlled private companies remains unchanged. The 20 per cent non-refundable credit for everyone else drops to 15 per cent in 2014. The government has also made some capital costs ineligible. That would include buildings, equipment or product prototypes. And they're restricting how much overhead and outside contract expenses can be lumped in. All in, the changes will save the government $520-million a year on a $3.6-billion program.
Mostly taken away. Agriculture Canada took a 10 per cent cut to its operational budget, totally $250-million a year in three years. That doesn't include direct payments to farmers but rather targets integration between Ag Canada and the Food Inspection Agency. The Cdn Food Inspection Agency will see its budget cut by $56-million. However, the government earmarked additional money directly for food inspections and says it will improve food safety, even as it is cutting the agency that manages the effort.
We've run out of time. Thanks, everyone, for participating. Excellent questions, and thanks to our Ottawa reporters for taking the time to jump in.