Red Book: No new health, rural Internet spending

space Staff
Monday, December 10 – Online Edition, Posted at 4:27 PM EST

Ottawa — Billions for security, infrastructure, even university research got a $200-million shot in the arm. But Canadians hoping that Monday's federal budget would include tax cuts or cash infusions into health care were disappointed.

Finance Minister Paul Martin's budget allocated $7.7-billion to security, $2-billion on infrastructure, another $2-billion in deferred taxes for small businesses, and a handful of funding initiatives for research and the environment.

Industry Minister Brian Tobin's pet project to create a multi-billion broadband Internet project linking rural areas of the country received neither a direct mention nor anywhere near the $1-billion Mr. Tobin had sought.

Instead, Mr. Martin went to great lengths to explain that Canada already boasts 100 per cent satellite coverage and one of the fastest Internet backbones.

In the last Liberal Red Book, the government said it would "open up new opportunities for Canadians" by building a high-speed Internet network which would extend to rural parts of the country. At the time, the Liberals said: "Broad access to the Internet will enable Canadian citizens to engage in the democratic process by having an electronic pipeline to government and to their representatives in Parliament."

The government promised that by 2004, it would be "known around the world" for electronically connecting its citizens. However, Monday's budget offered no new spending on Mr. Tobin's rural Internet project.

In its place, Mr. Martin announced spending of $110-million over three years to build the so-called CA*net 4, which is essentially a high-speed research computer network used primarily by academic institutions.

Then there's the new tax cuts, or lack thereof. With an election looming, Prime Minister Jean Chrétien last year announced Ottawa would slash $100-million in taxes over five years. Monday's budget makes no mention of new cuts, but reiterates the government's commitment to sticking to its promise made in the euphoria of winning a third-term in office.

"We will fully implement the $100-billion in tax cuts announced last year," Mr. Martin said in prepared remarks.

While the budget does allow small businesses to defer up to $2-billion in taxes, economists argue it falls short of offering needed relief in a period of fiscal uncertainty.

Health-conscience Canadians will also have to make do with the $23.4-billion injected into the health care and early childhood education in last year's mini-budget. That's bound to be bad news for the provinces, which have been lobbying Ottawa to inject billions into health care by dipping into the $17-billion federal surplus accumulated during fiscal 2001.

Ontario, specifically, has been hitting Ottawa up the hardest, taking out full-page newspaper ads denouncing the federal government for not spending more on health.

"If our health care system is to meet the demands of a population that's growing and aging . . . the federal government must start paying its fair share," one Ontario health care advertisement read.

Sharon Sholzberg-Gray, president of the Canadian Healthcare Association told, said the government needs to do more.

"There is still unfinished business regarding health," she said.

"We see the government boost spending for security but health care is still the number one concern for Canadians."

Repayment of the national debt — which currently stands at $547-billion — has also been nixed for 2002.

For environmentalists, the budget contained nothing over and above the $425-million the Liberals had already allocated to reduce greenhouse gases. Monday's budget did, however, double to $125-million the spending under the Green Municipal Enabling Fund and the Green Municipal Investment Fund.

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