By Graeme McNaughton/The Oshawa Express
With their first federal budget under their wing, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the Liberals are leaving their mark on the country.
One question, however, remains: how exactly is this money going to be given out? That was the question raised by many in wake of the $290-billion spending plan.
“It sounds like there’s a lot of money,” Roger Anderson, Durham’s regional chair, tells The Oshawa Express.
“I don’t know how they’re going to hand it out, that’s the issue.”
A funding announcements that caught Anderson’s eye was $11.9 billion over the next five years in infrastructure funding, which includes $3.4 billion on public transit and just shy of $1.5 billion on public housing.
Anderson says the funding for transit is promising, as it is his understanding the money allocation will be based on ridership, meaning millions of dollars will be coming into the region’s coffers to help fund and grow its bus services over the next few years.
What he doesn’t want to see, however, is the money only be made available through an application process – something that the regional chair has spoken out against numerous times during his tenure.
“It’s just not fair. Durham’s fighting Toronto, Durham’s fighting York, Durham’s fighting Peel. It’s just inappropriate, and Toronto gets most of the money,” he says.
“So for us, depending on how you get it, that could be a big help for us because we have a $230-million shortfall in immediate repairs and upgrades to our hosing stock.”
However, the mystery over how the money will be distributed – whether it be by application or otherwise – has left Anderson unsure of what Durham will or won’t get from this funding.
“I can’t figure it out, my staff can’t figure it out, I’ve talked to (Ajax MP) Mark Holland, and they don’t have (the details on) how the money’s going to be divvied out,” he says.
“I can only hope that despite everything that I hear from the big city mayors about how happy they are, there’s more to infrastructure than transit and if the transit allocation is by ridership, then I’m happy with that. Anyone who operates a transit system should be happy with that, but when it comes to the other infrastructure and social housing and local infrastructure for storm water management and things like that, unless we know how you get the money, it’s just up in the air right now.”
Oshawa mayor John Henry also says that while he’s happy that more money appears to be coming the city’s way, the mystery around how it will flow makes it tough to gauge.
“It’ll be interesting to see how it spins out and whether it will actually flow through to the individual communities,” he says.
“If the funding comes to the province and it doesn’t flow down to us, it’s a challenge.”
However, Henry says that with the funding that lies within the budget document, there is plenty of potential for both Oshawa and Durham Region.
“Durham is that last space around the 407 where it is really a blank canvas for employment land so anything to do with those would be wonderful.”
While Anderson and Henry voiced their optimism with the new federal budget, one man was voicing his concern with it: Oshawa MP Colin Carrie, who wasn’t afraid to pull punches, calling it “the worst budget I’ve ever seen.”
Carrie calls the Liberals’ spending plan “fiscally irresponsible,” and that the spending in this budget will be the burden of future generations.
“We’ve got increased costs for job creators, but they did promise a moderate deficit. This is outrageous – over $113 billion over the next four, five years, and they were blaming economic conditions,” Carrie says.
“They were only going to run these deficits because it was to fight a recession, but (Statistics Canada) says we’re not in a recession. This is a recession we’re not in with programs we don’t need and frankly, this is looking like a structural deficit. He’s parroting the same programs like Kathleen Wynne. So it’s not only to going to hurt our kids, but our grandkids who are going to be forced to pay for these mistakes.”
Carrie, who now sits as the deputy critic for health for the Conservatives, also says one of the cuts the Liberals made – the children’s fitness and arts credit was given the boot – will leave thousands of Canadian children off the field.
“I’m really, really concerned about this one because he’s trying to say it’s a family-friendly or growing the middle class budget, but with the changes he’s made, I think over 10 per cent of Canadian families are going to lose their benefits,” he says.
“I think it was 850,000 Canadian families were utilizing this fitness tax credit to put kids into sports, to get them healthy and get them fit, but now that they don’t have these, quite a few of these families aren’t going to be able to afford to put their kids into organized sports.”
One thing that Carrie says some people may like is the changes to employment insurance (EI), with the wait time reduced to one week from two, and workers in some parts of the country being given extensions on how long they can collect payments. While these changes are good, Carrie says they may come to bit the country in the end.
“There is some news, I suppose, that people can look at positively. They’ve increased their EI benefits, but with the lack of economic action with this government, EI may be the biggest employer in Canada when the Liberals are done with things.”