A wish list for Ottawa
Feb. 10, 2015
By Graeme McNaughton
The Golden Horseshoe will soon be filled with dedicated infrastructure money and ultra-high speed Internet.
Or at least that's what it will be like if the wish list of the region's mayors comes true.
That list, along with other comments on federal spending, was delivered to Joe Oliver, the country's finance minister, at a meeting of the mayors of the Greater Toronto and Hamilton area at Durham Regional Headquarters in Whitby on Feb. 6.
The finance minister took the opportunity to list off some of the infrastructure projects that are due in part to dollars from Ottawa.
“Our commitment to infrastructure renewal is ironclad. Between February 2006 and January of this year, we've invested more than $4.5 billion in infrastructure projects across the GTA alone,” Oliver said. “They include the Toronto York-Spadina subway extension to Vaughan, expanding and modernizing GO Transit service in Pickering and across the GTA, revitalizing Toronto's Union Station, developing rapid transit systems in Mississauga, Brampton and York Region, and building the Scarborough subway. As part of the 2007 Flow announcement, Highway 407 is being extended across Durham Region. This will benefit commuters throughout the GTA.”
Infrastructure projects alone won't benefit the region, Oliver said, adding this is why the Conservative government has worked to keep taxes low, although there's still more work to be done there.
“We're not going to rest on our morals, as there's still too much money in the hands of the Ottawa bureaucracy and not enough in the pockets of Canadian families,” he said.
Oliver went on to talk about the Building Canada fund, which was announced in 2011 and is set to see $75 billion over a decade for infrastructure projects across the country, with $53 billion of that being directed to the provinces, territories and municipalities to spend as they see fit.
However, Roger Anderson, Durham's regional chair, told Oliver that the money from that fund being directed to the province won't benefit many of the cities and towns represented by the mayors in attendance at the meeting.
“The province of Ontario, in my understanding, is municipalities over 100,000 are not going to be eligible,” he said before asking if those municipalities would be able to apply directly to Ottawa for the funding.
Oliver said he was unaware communities of that size were ineligible for provincial funds.
“(Ottawa) is not the one determining the priorities. It's the province. But if you're telling me that there's a whole group of municipalities that are not a part of this, then it's something we obviously have to look at it,” he said.
Some mayors expressed their dislike of the application process for federal funds, as it creates an uncertainty during budgeting as the municipality doesn't know for sure how much money it is receiving, unlike the set rate of the federal gas tax.
“This application-based system is not a good system. We can't budget properly for it. It's just not an efficient way of doing it,” said Steve Parish, the mayor of Ajax. “The gas tax has been a very, very effective vehicle and, certainly, it's certain and the cash flows right into our long-range capital budgets. We've made things happen.”
Another thing that some mayors voiced their support of was the introduction of ultra-high speed Internet to the Golden Horseshoe.
“The Region of Peel out-produces Toronto three to one, but it's all robotic. It's high technology. We want to bring more of those businesses here and what we really need is access to broadband,” said Allan Thompson, the mayor of Caledon. “I know you're bringing out (the Connecting Canadians broadband program) but it's way too small. You're probably only scratching the iceberg. I'm talking about 10 per cent of the infrastructure that needs to be brought forward. It isn't all about money, but it's building the access for us to be competitive.”
Thompson went on to add that his town has recently lost out on a food distribution company coming to Caledon due to the lack of broadband access.
“It's gone to Ohio,” he said. “They've offered them to build the access for them for high speed (Internet).”