COCHRANE – Member of Parliament for Banff-Airdrie and Conservative Party Chief Opposition Whip, Blake Richards, held a virtual town hall on Monday (Jan. 25) to discuss the federal budget, debt and Canada’s economic recovery.
Richards began the town hall with criticism of the Liberal’s handling of the pandemic and their plans for the 2021 Budget.
“We haven’t seen a federal budget in some time now,” Richards said. “Although there is pre-budget consultations going on right now, we have not yet heard when or if there will be a budget this year.”
He continued to critique the Liberal government’s spending through the 2020 fiscal year, which he said amounted to some $400 billion.
“That’s more than a third of the entire debt of the country put on in one single fiscal year,” he said. “They are projecting that those deficits are going to continue well past the pandemic, and no reasonable end that they’ve shown in sight to those deficits.”
On Monday (Jan. 25) the Department of Finance Canada released a statement indicating that Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland and the Minister of Middle Class Prosperity and Associate Minister of Finance Mona Fortier launched pre-budget consultations.
The consultations are an opportunity for Canadians and experts from across the country to chime in with ideas of how the 2021 budget can best serve those who call Canada home, says the statement.
It notes that the government has plans to make, “Smart, targeted investments to jump start the country’s economic recovery and begin to repair the damage done by the pandemic.”
Richards also spoke about the impacts of the pandemic on Canadians.
There are 1.1 million Canadians who have been directly affected in terms of their jobs, he said, which includes 636,000 unemployed and 433,000 that are working less than half of their usual hours.
Richards also critiqued the government’s plan to vaccinate Canadians.
“If we really want to see an economic recovery in this country, we need to ensure that we can get every single Canadian who wants one a vaccine. That’s what we’ve been relentlessly pushing for is a vaccine plan,” he said. “There remain huge gaps in that plan by the government, there is continued delays, there are shortages, and those are all creating confusion about what the country’s vaccine roll out really looks like.”
Richards said that he would like to see the government communicate clearly what they are doing to make up for the shortages, and to tell Canadians when they can expect to see vaccinations and to disclose Canada’s position in the queue for vaccine delivery compared to other countries.
Representatives from Pfizer told Canadian officials on Jan. 15 that vaccine shipments would be delayed due to the company scaling up a manufacturing centre in Puurs, Belgium.
During a press conference on Jan. 19, Trudeau said the shipments are expected to resume and Canada is expected to remain on track to meet first quarter vaccination goals.
“At the end of the day, if we don’t see people getting vaccinated, we won’t see people getting back to work,” Richards said.
The first of the pre-submitted comments Richards addressed was if it should be written into law that governments in Canada cannot operate in a deficit situation or add debt to the country.
Richards said he was open to ideas on how to achieve that, but for him the solution is a simple one.
“If we really want to get people the long-term support and help they need, it requires getting our economy moving again and getting our jobs moving again,” he said. “We have to get Canadians back to work. That is the key. If we get Canadians back to work and get our economy moving again, then we will start to eat into these massive deficits.”
Richards also fielded questions about the carbon tax, the tourism industry, federal support for businesses, the possibility of an election in the spring, Canadian airlines, the resignation of Canada’s governor-general, when life might return to normal, rural crime and more.
Richards was also asked what an alternative plan from the Conservatives would look like and he outlined several policy changes he would like to see.
He noted that Canadians need to see a “transparent and accountable” plan for the vaccine rollout, a government that fights for key projects like Keystone XL, the repealing of the carbon tax, a comprehensive environmental plan and a government that would work to secure a better future for Canadians.
Although Richards said the Conservatives are ready to take the helm should an election be called, for now the focus is on being an effective opposition to the government in place, scrutinizing legislation and pushing officials to make positive changes.
“First and foremost, we have to have the health and safety of every Canadian at top of our mind. We also have to have those who are out of work, businesses that are struggling to get by, those people have to be our main focus, and they will certainly be our main focus, and that means trying to work with the government that’s in place now,” Richards said.
“That means trying to push them to make changes for the better where we can, that means trying to criticize with the intent of seeing improvement to the programs that exist, that means pushing them to get our economy reopened, to have a vaccine plan. All of those things that I’ve talked about, that is the first and foremost job.”
Richards town hall video is available to view on Blake Richards’ Facebook page.