TIM SMITH/BRANDON SUN
Treasury Board President Tony Clement, left, shares a laugh with Brandon-Souris Conservative MP Merv Tweed, centre, and Brandon West Progressive Conservative MLA Reg Helwer during a barbecue hosted by Tweed at Princess Park on Friday.
Staffing cuts at Parks Canada are not expected to reduce service levels to visitors or impact the tourism economy, federal Treasury Board President Tony Clement told the Brandon Sun editorial board on Friday.
"I think when you are looking at the internal government bureaucracies, there are ways to do things better at a more sustainable cost to the taxpayer," Clement said. "We found ways to reduce some government employees and I think across the board, we’ll net out 12,000 out of 280,000 federal employees. We think that’s reasonable at a time when everyone is tightening their belts to do better in delivering our services and if we can reduce waste and duplication, we need to do that. Parks Canada is no exception."
Clement said the cuts in the national parks system were geared towards projects and services that weren’t being used often. He noted because of that, most park users will not see any changes to service levels. New technology has also affected how jobs are done and exposed more ways to save money. For example, some services such as campground reservations can be done more cheaply online than in person.
"Parks Canada still has a budget of hundreds of millions of dollars per year, and we are still expanding national parks in all areas of the country," Clement said. "We know how important parks are … and we are not here to dismantle them."
Legislation and collective agreements have forced the federal government to inform as many as two to four times the number of people facing a layoff that the job action is a possibility.
"It looks like a much bigger figure than it actually turns out to be," Clement said.
New cross-border shopping limits introduced in the last budget are described as a more common sense approach by Clement.
"I feel by harmonizing, we reduce the paperwork, the irritants about doing cross-border visitation and at the end of the day, if people are going to buy next door to us, they are going to buy next door to us."
Clement added that while there are not yet any statistics available on the impact of the changes, he did not think the changes would have much of an impact in Brandon or on retailers.
Clement, who represents the Ontario riding of Parry Sound-Muskoka, said that while infrastructure programs are a need across the country, the rush of projects completed under the economic stimulus program has led municipalities to request the next phase of spending at a slower rate.
"They needed us to stand down a bit and digest because we put so much spending into our economic stimulus during the recession, and these are cost-shared programs," Clement said. "They needed to digest it and make sure property taxpayers are not overwhelmed with this. We did hold back and that helped us reduce the deficit quite substantially."
Clement said the new Community Infrastructure Improvement Fund, which offers $150 million across the country over two years, is a transitional program while the next infrastructure program is developed.
"If a municipality has a building that needs some repairs, we’ll pony up to 50 per cent for that," Clement said. "It’s a message to municipalities that we are still in the business of infrastructure and we still want to be your partners."
Brandon-Souris Conservative MP Marv Tweed, who accompanied Clement to the editorial board meeting, said the next challenge is whether the province and the municipality can come up with their one-third share when the federal government offers cost-shared dollars for projects.
"If a community has done one big project in the last two or three years, there’s a good chance that the municipal tax rates are at a point where they probably don’t want to step up and invest another $5 million or $6 million on another project," Tweed said. "I’d suggest Brandon is in that same situation now. I’m not sure what they could take on right now."
Clement said his first-ever trip to Brandon was not to make any funding announcements, but was part of a two-day journey through Manitoba to support fellow Conservative MPs. Aside from a stop in Winnipeg, Clement was also in Onanole to meet with residents, along with their Dauphin, Swan-River-Marquette MP Bob Sopuck.
"I had two days to spend in Manitoba," Clement said. "The next week I’ll be in northern Ontario and the week after that I will be in Yellowknife. Part of my responsibility of being a minister is to get out and about and to see some things and convey our message on key things."
While in Brandon, Clement toured the construction site of Brandon University’s Healthy Living Centre, attended a meeting at the Westman Entrepreneur Centre and mingled at a noon-hour barbecue at Princess Park.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition July 14, 2012