HomeSudbury News

Feds last hurdle to making Maley extension a reality: mayor

By: Northern Life staff and the Canadian Press

 | Jul 15, 2014 - 5:00 AM |
Ontario Finance Minister Charles Sousa, right, delivers the 2014 budget next to Premier Kathleen Wynne at Queen's Park in Toronto on Monday, July 14, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darren Calabrese

Ontario Finance Minister Charles Sousa, right, delivers the 2014 budget next to Premier Kathleen Wynne at Queen's Park in Toronto on Monday, July 14, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darren Calabrese

Money from the province confirmed in Monday's budget

 Greater Sudbury Mayor Marianne Matichuk says the fact the Liberals introduced the same budget Monday as the one that led to the June provincial election is great news for the city.

That's because the May budget included long-awaited funding for the Maley Drive extension, the $125 million plan to create an east-west ring around the city. Among other things, the extension would significantly reduce traffic on The Kingsway and divert heavy ore and other trucks away from the heart of the city.

 While the city has completed much of the planning for the project – including the environmental assessment -- it has been waiting for the province and the federal government to agree to each provide one-third of the total cost. With the province committed to providing $26.7 million, all that remains is getting the federal government on board.

“It's closer than it's ever been,” Matichuk said Monday, about making Maley a reality.

The next step is meeting with the federal government to see if the project can get federal support through programs such as the Building Canada Fund, a 10-year, $14 billion fund to support infrastructure projects across the country.

“On the federal front, I want to get a meeting with (Infrastructure Minister) Denis Label in September, to talk about how we are going to move this project forward,” Matichuk said.

At Queen's Park on Monday, Premier Kathleen Wynne's Liberal government didn't even bother putting a new cover on the deja-vu document they had tabled back in May, its passage a foregone conclusion now that the party controls the legislature with a majority of seats.

Despite opposition warnings that the $130.4-billion budget will trigger a downgrade of the province's debt rating and lead to massive public-sector job cuts, the Liberals said they had a backing of Ontarians to implement their plan.

"Ontarians gave our government a strong mandate to implement the budget and the plan that we took to the people," said Finance Minister Charles Sousa.

The Liberals promise to spend $130 billion on infrastructure over a decade — including $29 billion for public transit and transportation projects — $2.5 billion in corporate grants to lure and keep businesses in the province and $1 billion to build a transportation route to the Ring of Fire mineral deposit in northern Ontario.

They also pledge to build new college and university campuses, create spaces for 15,000 more post-secondary students and increase the number of apprentices training in Ontario.

The province plans to hike taxes for individuals earning more than $150,000 as well as levies on aviation fuel and tobacco, and create an Ontario pension plan that will require contributions from both employees and companies.

Spending is forecast to jump by $3.4 billion this year, $900 million more than projected in the 2013 budget, with program spending expected to climb to $119.4 billion. That'll push up the deficit to $12.5 billion this year, but the Liberals insist they'll still balance the books in 2017-18.

They've touted the budget, which has slowly leaked out since late March, as a plan that will provide the necessary cash injection to grow Ontario's economy while holding the line on public sector compensation and finding other savings to staunch the red ink on schedule.

"It's easy for some to suggest, don't spend the money, don't invest in transit and all these other things because it's too expensive," said Sousa. "It's more expensive if we don't do it today."

But the opposition parties warn it's a ticking time bomb that will herald a new wave of public sector job cuts and provoke a downgrade of Ontario's debt rating, jacking up borrowing costs that are already consuming about $11 billion a year — its fourth-largest expense.

Ontario's net debt is expected to climb $20.1 billion to $289.3 billion this year, a stunning 40 per cent of gross domestic product.

Moody's changed its outlook on Ontario's debt rating to negative from stable in early July, saying it could be downgraded if the province "fails to provide clear signals of its ability and willingness to implement the required measures to redress the current fiscal pressures."

Ontario can't afford such a "disingenuous" budget that hikes both taxes and spending, said interim Progressive Conservative Leader Jim Wilson.

"It is immoral to give people false hope with a budget ... only to have to take away services and programs when the lenders put a gun to your head and say, 'Your line of credit has dried up,'" he said.

Both the Tories and New Democrats say the government will have to make big cuts to the public sector to balance the books.

"You simply have to scratch the surface and you see some real problems," said NDP Leader Andrea Horwath, who suffered a backlash from some party supporters when she rejected the budget in May.

"One of the big problems that we see is a lack of any new plan for good jobs, we see a fire sale of public assets, we see huge implications around cuts to jobs. None of these things are progressive."

Premier Kathleen Wynne vowed not to shrink the public sector during the election campaign, after the Tories made a disastrous promise to cut 100,000 jobs to help eliminate the deficit in two years.

"We'll make transformational changes where necessary, but it's not our intent to purposely go after the public sector," Sousa said Monday.

But union leaders say there's no way jobs won't be lost.

"With what they're promising to spend and how they're promising to control costs, the public service can only shrink," said Warren "Smokey" Thomas, president of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union.

"It will absolutely be impossible" to balance the books without layoffs, said Fred Hahn, president of CUPE Ontario.

"This budget contains cuts in some ministries of up to six per cent every year and that is a loss of services and a loss of jobs," he said. "It's the wrong direction."

Voters didn't endorse the budget, they simply punished the Tories for the mistakes they made during the campaign, said Wilson.

"I don't remember going to any door or anywhere where anybody talked about the Liberals' budget," he said. "They certainly did talk about the 100,000 jobs cut."

The Liberals did make minor changes to the budget bill, folding in other pieces of legislation that died when the snap election was called.

They include removing domestic content requirements for solar and wind energy projects, hiking the aviation fuel tax from 2.7 cents a litre to 6.7 cents over four years starting in September and freezing MPP salaries until the deficit is eliminated.

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