Many folks in Squamish likely feel disconnected from the decisions made 4,500 kilometres away, in Ottawa.
But the fact is, what the federal government decides, especially when it comes to where it directs funding, can directly impact Squamish locals.
Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland tabled the federal budget on March 28, which has Canada at about a $43 billion deficit for the upcoming fiscal year.
Increased funding for dental care plus a one-time “grocery rebate” were just some of the items woven into this year’s budget.
Member of Parliament for West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast—Sea to Sky Country, Patrick Weiler told The Squamish Chief there are three main focuses of the budget.
“It’s investing in health care as well as dental care, and it’s investing in creating good jobs for today and tomorrow in the clean economy,” he said. “Those are all issues I’ve heard that are front and centre for folks in Squamish.”
The budget introduced a “grocery rebate,” which would offer low-income, eligible people to receive up to $467 for families, up to $234 for single people without children, and up to $255 for seniors.
This comes on the heels of food inflation reaching 10% in February 2023, while other inflation remains around 5%. Meanwhile, Canada’s Food Price Report estimates a family of four will spend over $16,000 on groceries in 2023, about $1,000 more than in 2022.
The budget did not offer the exact income that would trigger these payouts, however the federal government estimated that approximately 11 million Canadians would be eligible for the payments.
“We've also announced reduction in credit card swipe fees,” Weiler said.
With the pandemic, he said, smaller businesses and people alike were largely using credit cards for purchases.
“And so we were able to negotiate with MasterCard and Visa to lower those fees, which will in turn allow those small businesses to lower that on all Canadians, including grocery stores,” he said.
Weiler added that Canada’s Competition Bureau continues to look into “price fixing” among the large grocery store chains, but also said the war in Ukraine has stalled supply.
“I think it has really put a focus on the importance of having local food production for food security,” he said.
As for housing affordability, there are not a lot of new items listed in this year’s budget but starting on April 1, banks can start offering first-time homebuyers tax free savings accounts, which allows people to invest up to $40,000.
“That'll help people to start saving for that first downpayment to get into the housing market,” Weiler said.
He touted other tools introduced before this budget, such as restricting foreign real estate buyers and an underused housing tax, as measures that he hopes will address home prices. Plus, he highlighted the national housing strategy, which helped fund the Westwinds senior living facility in Squamish.
“There's a huge demand to be in Squamish. But on top of that as well, we have seen that actually, Squamish has been building homes fairly quickly,” he said.
Additionally, the budget outlines over $350 million over five years for the opioid crisis plus over $150 million over three years for the 988 national suicide hotline.
The funding for the opioid crisis will support safer supply, supervised consumption sites, community-based supports, drug checking services, other evidence-based health interventions as well as evaluating innovative approaches.
“It is really one of the most important health challenges that we have to deal with,” Weiler said.
On top of that, Weiler added that $27 billion will go to B.C. healthcare, overall, which he said will help deliver services better, including mental health services.
“We have a major dearth of family health care practitioners, we also have a dearth of nurses, so this funding is going to be critical for B.C.,” he said.
Another addition to the budget, he said, was student loan forgiveness for nurses that move and work in communities that are 30,000 people or less, and Squamish would currently qualify as one of those communities.
For more information about the budget, please visit the Government of Canada’s website at Budget.Canada.ca.