• Stephanie O’Hanley

Vaudreuil-Soulanges residents air budget concerns at Liberal town hall meeting


PHOTO BY STEPHANIE O'HANLEY

Saint-Maurice–Champlain MP François-Philippe Champagne, Parliamentary Secretary for the Minister of Finance (left) and Vaudreuil-Soulanges MP Peter Schiefke, who is Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister (Youth) (right) field audience questions about the new 2016 federal budget at the June 17 town hall meeting in Vaudreuil-Dorion.

At least 70 people, including parents with young children, took time out of a beautiful sunny evening for a bilingual town hall meeting June 17 at the Château Vaudreuil. The sixth town hall hosted by Vaudreuil-Soulanges MP Peter Schiefke, it was billed as a discussion of “…the impacts the 2016 federal budget (has) on the families in Vaudreuil-Soulanges.”

Schiefke, who is Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister (Youth), co-presented highlights of the 2016 budget with Saint-Maurice–Champlain MP François-Philippe Champagne, who is Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance. The budget, they said, honoured campaign promises to provide support to middle class families and seniors, offer youth job opportunities and create a more sustainable future through investments in green infrastructure, new technologies, and public transportation.

“The consultation process has not stopped,” Schiefke told residents. “I know I am reporting back to the Prime Minister’s office on youth-related issues whenever I see a comment related to youth and I know Mr. Champagne is doing the same thing for comments related to finance.”

As they answered questions such as what the government was doing about the low value of the Canadian dollar versus the U.S. dollar and about gas price hikes on weekends and holidays, both Schiefke and Champagne stressed the benefits they said the 2016 federal budget offers middle class Canadians, families, and seniors.

Vaudreuil-Dorion resident Magalie Seabrooke asked why the maximum lifetime grant the Canadian government gives a child through the Canada Education Savings Grant has remained unchanged at $7,200 since 1998. “It’s 2016, is this something the government will look at, perhaps increase it or change it?” Seabrooke asked.

“Credits don’t always have the same impact,” Champagne replied, pointing out the Liberal government prefers to offer direct support rather than improve certain tax credits. But he added, the government is in the process of reviewing its tax policy and he’ll pass along Seabrooke’s comments.

Starting in July eligible families with children under 18 will receive the new tax-free Canada Child Benefit. Nine out of 10 families will receive higher payments under the benefit, which Schiefke said will pull 300,000 Canadian children out of poverty.

Notre Dame de l'Île Perrot resident Laura Girolami, who said she’s nearing a debt-free “Freedom 55” retirement and that she and her husband don’t have children, asked about accountability for families receiving the Canada Child Benefit. “I have no doubt there are families in need, there are kids in need, in dire straits,” Girolami said. “But what irks me is how do we know that the money that’s going to these families is not going to plasma TVs, cigarettes and so on? I’m not picking on anyone in particular, it’s just this nagging doubt.”

“That’s a very good question,” Schiefke replied, noting that after somebody raised the same question at another town hall, a young single father on the other side of the room said “ ‘how do we make sure that by increasing the money we’re providing seniors they’re not going to spend the money on cigarettes?’ “

Schiefke said when they knocked on thousands of doors during the election campaign they (Liberals) met people who were having a hard time putting food on the table.

“I guess you just have to have faith that Canadians are going to do right by their children and the people that this funding is supposed to help,” he said. “The same thing goes for the 10 percent increase that we’re providing to seniors, the same thing goes to the middle class tax cut that we’ve provided, that will put $330 per person and $540 roughly for a couple that they’re going to spend it the right way, whether that’s going to pay off debt or whether that’s going to be to invest in their kids or invest in making themselves healthier,” in the short and long term, Schiefke said.

“I can say also we are always open to look at what we’re doing, get the feedback, and determine whether a change is necessary,” he added.

Île Perrot resident and area business owner Andrew De Four said the “sandwich generation,” who are responsible for the care of both their own children and senior family members, face an economic issue because they have to take time off work and a family issue because of the stress of “dealing with all the costs and there’s the emotional stress of dealing with caregiving.

“As a government what are you going to do to address this issue for families?” De Four asked.

“It’s a complex reality,” said Champagne. “One of the things we did in the last federal budget was to make sure we could have flexible rules for federal employees...understanding that people sometimes may need to take time off. We did that also with E.I. insurance... we did some tweaks to make sure that someone who leaves their job has some flexibility to take care of a parent or loved one who needed care,” he said, adding the government “is trying to make sure we can help people like you and others who have had to take care of a child and a parent.”

“A lot of the reasons many seniors will move back in with their children is not for medical reasons, it’s because they can’t find affordable housing,” Schiefke told De Four, pointing out that $3.4 billion for affordable housing is part of $20 billion that’s being set aside for social infrastructure. ‘We’ve heard this before,” he added. “There’s actually been some other town halls where people have suggested a tax credit for families who have a parent, a senior who’s living with them. That’s something that’s being looked into, and being discussed.”

Ruth Pelletier, a Vaudreuil-Dorion resident representing Seniors Action Quebec, spoke of seniors experiencing financial woes that cause isolation and mental health issues and the difficulties Anglophone seniors have accessing health care in English and home care support.

In his reply, Schiefke said federal Minister of Health Jane Philpott is “100 percent committed to assuring we have a new health accord with the provinces” and that “Quebec will be a huge beneficiary of whatever health accord is signed.”

“You mentioned the youth advisory (committee) that you have; do you have a similar thing for seniors?” Pelletier asked.

“I can say, based on my experience at town halls seniors have been the most vocal,” Schiefke replied. “And rightfully so. If it’s something that you think needs to be done I will take that consideration and provide it as a suggestion to Mr. (Jean-Yves) Duclos, Families Minister.”

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