Red Deer-Lacombe MP Blaine Calkins on a Zoom call to the Ponoka chamber of commerce. (Image: screenshot)

Red Deer-Lacombe MP Blaine Calkins on a Zoom call to the Ponoka chamber of commerce. (Image: screenshot)

MP Calkins on federal pandemic spending: ‘We’re in trouble’

MP gives run down on federal finances, vaccine roll out to Ponoka chamber members

Red Deer-Lacombe MP Blaine Calkins spoke to the Ponoka and District Chamber of Commerce during their Zoom meeting on Jan. 19.

Calkins was sombre during the meeting, laying out a bleak prognosis of the nation’s current financial situation, and the impact of the ongoing pandemic and the roll out of vaccines.

Calkins noted that the closures in Alberta were first announced by the premier on March 13, 2020.

“And here we are 10 months later — we still have no end in sight.”

Central Alberta was virtually untouched by COVID-19 until the fall, which lead to the provincial government making some difficult decisions, he says.

“I’m not going to offer my two cents on that, I’ll let you talk to your MLA Mr. Ron Orr.”

Calkins says Canada’s warning/early detection system was shutdown by the Liberals a few months prior to the pandemic starting, which led to a late-to-the game response when it came to borders and travel restrictions at ports of entry and airports.

The government tried an initial vaccine research development procurement agreement through a Canada-China joint venture that did not pan out.

“It went nowhere and that left the government, in my opinion, scrambling a bit and they applied what I like to call a ‘shot gun’ approach and basically went out and tried to procure vaccines from virtually every other player that was still in the game.”

He added that we’re at the stage now that we know more and vaccines are starting to roll out despite hiccups.

Currently, there are two vaccines approved by Health Canada: Moderna and Pfizer, and Calkins says there will be more coming soon.

“The Government of Canada has ordered enough innoculations that if we actually bought them all, and procured them all, I think there is enough (for) every Canadian … to be vaccinated 30 times over.”

“I’m guessing that is just a safety net the government is putting in place to ensure that if other contracts fall through that they’ll still have enough.”

Calkins says there is an issue with the roll out of the Pfizer vaccine right now. It is a two-dose vaccine.

“A lot of Albertans have gotten the initial vaccine already … but it doesn’t look like many will be getting the second shot within the prescribed time frame that the manufacturers suggest they need it, which is going to raise some questions of the efficacy of the vaccine when Albertans are able to get the second shot,” said Calkins.

“So, some difficulties with the roll out but look, this is what we need to go through in order to get to the end, which is to get our population vaccinated as quickly as possible for those who wish to get vaccinated and of course put in place a rigorous testing process,” he said.

“Vaccines will be part of the equation in making sure that our population can be prepared for this virus.”

The Conservatives have also been pressing the federal government for the need for rapid tests.

There has been no federal budget since the spring of 2019, and in a month or two, the Government of Canada will have gone two complete fiscal cycles without a budget.

“As a Member of Parliament, I have not voted on an actual fiscal plan, a budget, an annual budget, by the Government of Canada since prior to the last election. Let that sink in for a minute,” he said.

“We had a fall federal election in 2019 and we have gone through all of 2020 with a few fiscal snapshots … There is no time, I don’t think, in our history, that we’ve gone this long without a budget.”

Since 2015, the Trudeau government has been running $20 to $30 billion deficits, and prior to the pandemic, the Liberals were still adhering to the ‘fiscal anchor’ of a sustainable debt to GDP ratio, but that now has been “completely discarded altogether,” says Calkins.

Although it won’t be known until the end of March, the federal deficit is projected to be around $380 billion.

“This will be in part due to massive economic decline, GDP has gone down, and of course, we’re running massive deficits.”

Calkins says Canada may soon be in a situation where it won’t be able to get any loans, adding the only reason it can now, is because interest rates are low.

“We’re in a very, very precarious situation … any increase in inflation or upward pressure on inflation and interest rates, a few percentage points alone, could very well be the difference between whether the government of Canada could be solvent or insolvent.

“Right now, the government is taking the risk and the Prime Minister has recently said to the finance ministers ‘Keep spending what you need to spend in order to support people through the pandemic,’” he said.

“While that sounds like a reasonable notion … at some point in time we’re going to reach a cliff where we’re no longer able to access money. If that happens and the pandemic is not yet over, I’m not sure what the contingency plan (is).”

Calkins added that while we need to be compassionate, we also need to be mindful that every dollar the government spends must have a positive, targeted effect on individuals and businesses.

While spending to support Canadians was supported by the Conservatives early in the pandemic, there is now “negative growth.”

Calkins says the government is going to need the advice and ideas of local, provincial, and federal chambers to come forward and provide some guidance to the Government of Canada.

“Hopefully they will listen — we’re in trouble, we’re in trouble.”

Calkins stated that in order to get the nation out of the current financial mess it’s in, Canada needs to create the conditions for economic growth, and a critical part of that will be the widespread vaccinations of Canadians.

With widespread vaccinations, borders and businesses will be able to open again, he says.

The Conservatives will continue pressing the Liberals to get the vaccines and rapid testing that are needed and to get the economy “firing on all cylinders.”

“I fear for the health and well-being of Canadians, I fear for the health and well-being of our economy and our futures if we don’t get our fiscal house in order as soon as possible,” he said.

“I know that we are up to the task of doing our part, as Albertans, to help our country get back on track, we just need a federal government that is going to take the shackles off of the portions of our economy that we know provide the greatest opportunity for wealth generation and wealth creation.”

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