February 11, 2014 8:29 pm

Seven highlights from this year’s ‘boring’ budget

WATCH: Global’s Chief Political Correspondent Tom Clark explains how this year’s budget is the warm-up act to next year

OTTAWA – Filler. Stay the course. Steady as she goes.

Those were the descriptions of Finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s 2014 budget delivered Tuesday.

Not that he minded the characterizations of this, his 10th budget.

“Some people will say this budget is boring,” Flaherty said. “I consider that a compliment.”

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With the Conservative government poised to post a surplus by 2015 – or sooner – the budget proposed few spending initiatives, just a potpourri of populist measures such as lowering credit card costs for businesses.

READ MORE: Budget littered with items that have no cost but sound like a million bucks

Experts agree: this is the budget before the big one.

“Next year we’re going to be getting a sense of the government’s priorities once they actually get to that surplus,” said Sonya Gulati, TD senior economist.

“And there really is no message or indication as to where they’re going other than this long-term prosperity agenda.”

But at least one topic on most Canadians’ minds made it in the budget: the Senate scandal.

Here are some highlights.

Eliminating the deficit:

We knew the Conservatives were on track to balance the budget by 2015-16, just as parties hit the hustings. But updated figures in Budget 2014 indicate the country could be back in the black one year ahead of schedule, though only by a hair.

The government holds on to $3 billion every year as a cushion to use in the event of a disaster. Taking that into consideration, the Conservatives could post a surplus of about $100 million at the end of 2014-15. It’s unlikely they’ll fly that banner proud; the government is still facing risks, and could have to shuffle that relatively small amount of money to a number of programs.

The fiscal forecasts have shifted somewhat in the budget compared to the most recent fiscal update, published in November.

The government is now saying it will post a surplus of $6.4 billion in 2015-16 (taking into consideration that $3-billion reserve), compared to November’s estimated surplus of $3.7 billion.

The deficit for 2014-15, meanwhile, is now forecasted at $2.9 billion, compared to $5.5 billion estimated three months ago.

READ MORE: Suspended senators targeted in federal budget

Infrastructure funding:

Flaherty’s hints of significant funding for major infrastructure projects were accurate — what he didn’t say was most of that funding was going to Quebec.

The budget announces more than $1 billion in planned investments for Parks Canada, ferry services in the Atlantic provinces and small craft harbours, among other initiatives. But more than half of that $1 billion is earmarked for the Greater Montreal Area and its crumbling bridges — $543 million will go toward building a new bridge over the St. Lawrence as well as maintaining the existing bridges until the new one is finished.

Above: Finance Minister Jim Flaherty tabled a budget that he vowed would “stay the course” and put the government on track to balance the books. Jacques Bourbeau reports.

Jobs, jobs, jobs:

The budget offers a potpourri of measures to continue the Conservatives’ goal of creating jobs and connecting Canadians to available jobs with a special focus this year on people with disabilities.

Budget 2014 proposes $15 million over three years to the Ready Willing and Able initiative, which connects people with developmental disabilities with jobs, as well as $11.4 million over four years to supporting the creation of vocational training centres for people with autism.

The budget also proposes investing $75 million over three years to help unemployed older workers and, interestingly, indicates the Canada Jobs Grant will go ahead in April with or without provinces’ agreement.

Watch Above: Global National’s Vassy Kapelos takes a look at what the budget has in store for Canadian families and the average Canadian

Beefed-up food safety:

In the wake of the largest meat recall in Canadian history, the budget scales back on previously-announced government cuts at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. It promises $390 million over five years to strengthen Canada’s food safety system.

The money will fund 200 additional inspectors, establish a national information system and continue programming aimed at safeguarding human and animal health.

Booze and cigarettes:

First wine, now beer and spirits.

As previously indicated in the Speech from the Throne, the government plans to further amend a law to allow Canadians to take beer and liquor across provincial borders “for their personal use.”

READ MORE: Conservatives hike excise duties on cigarettes in $700-million tax grab

The budget also promises to remove “red tape” for the beer industry, specifically craft beers, which do not meet some standards under current food and drug regulations.

And lastly, the government plans to rake in a whack of money by significantly increasing duty and tax on cigarettes – by up to $6 on cartons of duty-free smokes. It is estimated the initiative will increase federal tax revenues by about $3.3 billion over six years.

WATCH: Minister Jim Flaherty joins Dawna Friesen live from Parliament to discuss his budget for 2014-2015

First Nations:

As promised, the government plans to significantly reform First Nations education.

The budget confirms $1.9 billion in funding for on-reserve education, but the money doesn’t start flowing until 2015. It also promises more funding for a program that subsidizes retailers in remote and isolated Northern communities, where food prices are much higher.

It also renews $25 million in funding for five years beginning in 2015 to reduce violence against Aboriginal women and girls. But it doesn’t promise a public inquiry – which First Nations have been calling for for years.

War on the public service:

The budget also hints at a coming declaration of war on public service unions.

The government plans to save $7.4 billion over the next six years by moving to equal cost sharing for retired federal employees under the Public Service Health Care plan.

It will also increase the number of years of service to enter into the plan from two to six years. In addition, this year marks a new round of collective bargaining between the government and the federal public service to renew all 27 collective agreements.

“They are looking for a war with the public sector unions and I think they think they’re going to win it,” said Ian Lee, professor at the Sprott School of Business.

© Shaw Media, 2014

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