The budget has been released and many still wonder if it does enough to combat rising cost of living.
By Jaymie L. White
Special to Wreckhouse Press
WEST COAST – With the prices of gasoline, oil, and food increasing rapidly across the province, residents are feeling the significant impact the higher cost of living is having on their ability to provide themselves and their families with the basic, daily necessities they require to live comfortably.
The provincial government announced on Mar. 12, a five-point plan to help with the cost of living.
• The Income Supplement will be increased by 10 per cent.
• The Seniors’ Benefit will increase by 10 per cent. Eligible individuals will receive up to an extra $1,444 a year.
• The first week of April, a one-time payment will be provided to those currently living on Income Support: $200 for individuals and $400 for families.
• An investment of $1.9 million for electric vehicle charging infrastructure and a $2,500 rebate for consumers and $1,500 rebate for the purchase of plug-in hybrid vehicles.
• A rebate of up to $5,000 to help transition homes whose sole source of heat is oil, to electricity.
Port Aux Basques Mayor Brian Button said the plan released by government certainly helps in some areas, especially seniors and those on fixed incomes. However, more can always be done.
“With the high cost of living, everything we’re seeing from our food to our gas, you name it, the cost of living is rising. And even for a person in the working class, out trying to work, trying to make ends meet, you just wonder does it really reach out enough to everybody? It certainly tackles some things and that’s great. I’m really pleased about that, but is it enough? I’m not sure when it could actually ever be enough because it is getting very hard these days just to get by for a lot of families and I don’t know where it all ends. I don’t know how a working family today, even with a couple of incomes coming into their house, can get by. It is still very difficult to get by. People are struggling.”
MHA Tony Wakeham (Stephenville – Port au Port) said the current budget does little to put money back into the pockets of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians.
“Prior to the budget, we had been pushing the government to do something about the price of home heating fuel, and the prices at the pump, and they responded with their five-point plan which missed the mark. They even acknowledged themselves that the plan didn’t go far enough. They kept telling us to wait for the budget. Then the budget comes down and, while we welcome a one-year reprieve on paying tax on insurance on your homes or getting a break on your vehicle registration, there are still a lot of people who won’t benefit from that. So it’s a real challenge, and I think what we would’ve liked to see is a more direct approach where there was some sort of program put in place, a home heating program like what used to exist previously, and certainly there could’ve been and should’ve been a reduction in the taxes that we’re collecting on gas at the pumps.”
Wakeham said the statement made by the government that there would be no new tax increases to the people is incorrect.
“The budget even went so far as to say that there would be no tax increases, and just like they missed the mark on that graphic they put out. They’ve also now, of course, we are now going to have a payroll tax we are going to have to start paying in September, and for the minister to say that was brought in last year, well we’re only going to start paying it this year. So it’s not a tax we are already paying. It’s going to be more money coming out of people’s pockets. So to say there are no new tax increases, that’s not true. We are going to be paying more tax, and that’s just one.”
Wakeham said the government has the ability to reduce their own gas tax by an equivalent amount to offset the increase in the carbon tax, but they didn’t do that.
“All of the money they collect from carbon tax stays in the province, so again, they could’ve reduced their own tax by the same amount and there would be no new effect on people, but they didn’t do that. That’s a simple thing that could’ve been done, and we were looking for ways for government to be creative about how they might put more money back in people’s pockets, because that’s what this should’ve been about.”
Mayor Button said it is one thing to make a plan for people to get access to rebates, but that doesn’t eliminate the fact that people need to pay for these transitions up front in order to avail of the rebates.
“Where does the money come from to do it? Every day families are trying to live on budgets, wondering how they can budget their everyday life, and to look at full renovations in your home to switch from oil to electricity, some may be able to do it, some will avail of it, but there are a lot who probably won’t be able to go there because you have to get the work done.”
The provincial government’s Budget 2022, released on April 7, placed some focus on the issue of the increased cost of living, and the reactions have been mixed. Button said he is still trying to devour the budget in its entirety.
“It’s not the worst budget I’ve ever seen. There are some things in there that will benefit some people. Like everyone, you wonder if it goes far enough.”
Button said healthcare is always a concern for him coming out of a budget, and he wonders if enough is being done to address many situations seen in rural Newfoundland surrounding access to family physicians. The mayor also expressed his hope that some of the funds being allocated for road work will be seen on the West Coast.
“I’m hoping some of that will flow into some of our communities for much needed road work and, when I look at that, from a mayor that sits on the West Coast, I feel, when it comes to Trans Canada Highway and driving across this province, we have some of the worst highways that I’ve driven right across Canada. And it happens right from the West Coast, from Corner Brook out. We’ve got some major upgrades to do with our highway system, and when we come from the Port Aux Basques region, from South Branch down into Port Aux Basques, our roads are in deplorable shape. So I’m hoping that some of this money that has been announced in this budget will find it’s way and we’ll see some activity there, if that’s the case, I would be very pleased with that.”
Stephenville Mayor Tom Rose said that overall he is pretty pleased with the budget but, with as with any budget, it’s always a challenge to both manage the debt and focus on the dire needs of each region.
“When I saw things like cutting registration fees significantly, that was a nice step, but as you well know, the impact on Newfoundland and Labradorians with the cost of fuel, which actually escalated the cost of goods and services in other sectors such as food services, there are a lot of people really hurting in this province.”