As budgets in Quebec, Saskatchewan, Ontario, New Brunswick, and Ottawa were released over the last two weeks, Hill+Knowlton offices across the country went into overdrive to assess the impact on clients, stakeholders and Canadians at large.
Columnists and pundits descended on the budgets, offering darts and laurels on big-ticket items like Quebec’s Plan Nord, Saskatchewan’s Film Tax Credit, Ontario’s pension reform plans and the federal plans around Old Age Security.
But what did they miss?
With all the ink and pixels dedicated to coverage of these budgets, I thought it might be useful to canvass Hill+Knowlton’s public affairs experts across the country, to cover items that the media might have missed in their coverage.
Below, you’ll find insight from public affairs experts across the H+K network, and even a special cameo from our partners in the Maritimes, Cape Consulting Group.
Saskatchewan Budget: What the Media Missed
In Saskatchewan, the media picked up on the big business improvements pretty well, but the elimination of the film tax credit garnered outsized headlines. It’s an $8M line item, but when you have Wes Blakeley from The Hunger Games tweeting about the decision, it tends to take on a life of its own. Unfortunately, the film tax credit issue took away from a lot of the good that was in the budget, like the Rental Housing Construction Initiative. That initiative is going to be huge for the construction industry. We’re running at incredibly low vacancy in this province – there’s a two-year wait to have a house built in some areas!
Another important line item that might have slipped off the radar was the government’s commitment to forgive $120,000 in student loans for doctors who practice in rural communities for five years. That will have an immense impact on our rural communities, and should help Saskatchewan attract doctors to underserviced areas.
–          Lance Donison, Account Director, H+K Saskatchewan
Ontario Budget: What the Media Missed:
Pretty much every line of the 2012 Ontario budget has been well covered by the media. Notable in its absence – from both the budget and subsequent media coverage – was any mention of mental health.
Ontario’s 2011 budget promised a comprehensive Mental Health and Addictions Strategy, and $257M for children’s mental health. Yet, since last summer, we haven’t heard much about the strategy.
In the aftermath of the Drummond Report advocating for continued support of the sector and high-profile mental health campaigns like Bell’s Let’s Talk, I was surprised not only that the budget left out mental health, but that the media didn’t pick up the omission.
–          Shabnum Durrani, Account Director, H+K Toronto
Quebec Budget: What the Media Missed
Plan Nord garnered most of the attention coming out of the Quebec budget –rightfully so, given the level of investment – but there was one health-related items that snuck past many columnists, despite the fact it will likely have an impact on healthcare delivery in the province in the years to come.
The formation of a panel examining hospital funding, headed by McGill’s Dr. Wendy Thomson, was something of a sleeper issue, buried in the budget. Dr. Thomson was UK Prime Minister Tony Blair’s Chief Advisor on Public Service Reform – the UK’s Don Drummond, perhaps? – so it may prove useful to examine her work on that file, as we consider how her panel will impact hospital funding here in Quebec. With Ontario having just launched its HBAM funding, we may see similar recommendations come out of Quebec’s expert panel.
–          Martin Briand, Directeur, H+K Québec
New Brunswick: What the Media Missed
While it didn’t receive much coverage, New Brunswick is continuing to look at property tax reform as the three-year cap on assessments is winding down.  In last week’s budget, Finance Minister Blaine Higgs announced the province will move ahead with a four-year phase-in of property tax changes beginning with the 2013 property tax year.
Included in the first phase are reforms to ensure more equitable treatment of property types, ensuring local services are paid for in a fairer manner; a gradual rate reduction in the non-owner-occupied class of properties which includes apartment buildings, second homes and cottages; and a gradual reduction in the provincial business property tax rate.
Because many of these changes will impact the amount of money available to municipalities to provide local services, these changes will likely be tied to the province’s local governance reforms which will start being implemented later this year. We’ll find out more about the province’s property tax reform plan once the government releases its white paper in the coming months.
–          Chad Peters, Vice President, Cape Consulting Group, New Brunswick
Federal Budget: What the Media Missed
While a fair bit of attention was given to the new funding for innovation in the 2012 budget, very little attention was given to how these investments signaled a change in approach on innovation.
Following the recommendations of the Jenkins report, the federal government is looking to plug the holes in Canada’s innovation pipeline. It is clear by the new investments that the holes are not seen to be in basic research. The medical community should take note of the government’s efforts to transform more research into viable products with the $400 million in new funding for venture capital. As nearly 40% of government research funding goes to the health sciences it is only reasonable to expect that a large focus of this venture capital funding will be to transform more medical discoveries into viable products and processes.  It is also conceivable that the government’s sharpened focus on applied research and technological transfer could influence the type of projects the Canada Foundation for Innovation approves with its new $500 million in funding over five years.
–          Angela Cerovic, Account Director, H+K Ottawa
–          Robert South, Senior Consultant, H+K Ottawa
When you’re looking to capture all the opportunities or identify all of the challenges coming out of a budget, there is always more than meets the eye at first glance.