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Editorial: April 2011

Lead, follow, or go to Ottawa


April 7, 2011
By Monica Dick

The defeat of the federal budget means the end of a helpful program, and prolonged uncertainty over the corporate tax rate.

The defeat of the federal budget means the end of a helpful program, and prolonged uncertainty over the corporate tax rate.

As the yearly federal budget circus unfolds, one gets the sense that a great deal could be accomplished in this country if our elected representatives could just figure out how to get out of their own way. Lately, Ottawa has seemed worse than usual at focusing on anything anyone might consider important or relevant. Our energy sector is in turmoil because of disruptions in the Middle East and Japan, our troops are in theatre in Libya and Afghanistan, and no one knows how we are going to pay for health care or pensions once the baby boomers retire. But all we hear from the capital is how horrible it is that a minister altered a document without attending a bazillion meetings first, and that the government’s restrained, business-as-usual budget is a document so odious that, if passed, it will leave only a smoking crater where this country once stood. The opposition parties say they “cannot” (they really want to, but they just can’t) support the budget, leaving them no alternative but to vote down the government. As sure as tiny green buds will emerge on the tips of branches if this snow ever melts, all sides will shrilly blame the others for forcing this spring election on an unwilling nation and no one will learn anything and exactly nothing will be accomplished.

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This time, the parliamentary goofiness comes with an extra sting of frustration, because the defeat of this budget is going to mean the end, for the foreseeable future, of the EcoEnergy Retrofit Program.

Since its inception in April 2007, the program has shelled out $80 to $90 million per year to homeowners who upgraded their windows, doors and HVAC systems with Energy Star-certified retrofits, often with additional funds from complementary provincial programs. It was so popular that the program estimates one in 20 Canadian homeowners has made use of it. In the last budget, this government started to wind it down, citing fiscal restraint in a difficult economy. The program was slated to end on March 31 of this year. That is, until the government put the program back into the 2011 budget, with a proposed $400 million to fund it. With the defeat of this budget, that money will pass into limbo pending the decisions of whoever takes over following the aforementioned election. Restarting the program may require a whole new legislative process.

This is no pro-Conservative rant. The government certainly had it within its power to draft a budget the Opposition would support and to avoid an election until after the EcoEnergy program was safely back in place. I’ll leave it to you to decide who is really at fault, then you can take that information and $1.50 and go get yourself a cup of coffee. Bottom line: take your blessings from Ottawa when and as you can. Who knows where their random stumblings will take them next? •


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