Queen's Park is in a state of gridlock that would rival rush hour on the Gardiner. The Ontario Liberal government tabled it's budget earlier this week, but it's still waiting for support from the NDP in order to get it passed and avoid a June election.
While the NDP consult the public, Ontario Finance Minister Charles Sousa has been selling his budget around the province. Wednesday, he answered some questions on points of the budget that affect Hamilton and the surrounding regions.
Here are Sousa's answers to three key budget questions.
1. Minimum wage is still frozen — and it probably won't increase anytime soon
Minimum wage in Ontario will remain at $10.25 an hour, where it's been frozen since 2010. According to the Living Wage Hamilton Coalition, a living wage in Hamilton — the hourly wage required to cover living expenses in the city — is $14.95. With 10,000 Hamiltonians working full time who still live below the poverty line, a frozen minimum wage is a disappointing blow.
Sousa defended the decision by looking at how far the province has come.
"Minimum wage is something we have acted upon since 2003.
"It was the lowest of all provinces throughout Canada and consecutively for seven or eight years, we kept increasing it and it became the highest in Canada. At that point, we took a pause, recognizing that we had a duty to stimulate economic growth as well."
He noted the budget also includes proposals for a minimum wage review board to set standards for increases going forward, though there are no concrete plans to increase the wage. This could put the living wage in Hamilton even further out of reach for those living below the poverty line.
2. Hamilton is top of mind for improving transit
The city is already familiar with Metrolinx's Big Move proposals of all-day, two-way GO service to Hamilton as well as a light rail transit system, both highlighted in the budget. Now the province just needs to decide on a way to foot the bill, which it plans to do after hearing recommendations from Metrolinx in June. Regardless, when it comes to transit, Hamilton and the surrounding regions are top of mind, Sousa said.
"In order to get people to and back from work and home safely, we need to invest in this infrastructure and we're dedicating $35 billion to do just that.
"An hour stuck on the road for people is bad enough. An hour for businesses and trying to move goods is even worse because that lessens our productivity and our business competitiveness."
3. Freezing hospital funding will affect local institutions
While St. Joseph's Healthcare's West 5th Centre for Mountain Health Services will receive a boost in the form of a government capital grant, base hospital funding across the province is frozen and the growth rate is set to slow over the next several years. That means research-intensive institutions like St. Joe's and McMaster will have to make due with what they've got as they grow, something Sousa acknowledged is a problem.
"We've built more hospitals over the past number of years. We've hired more nurses and personal support workers. We've done a lot of tough decisions, too, in terms of how to fund and sustain this.
"We know that in Hamilton, Niagara and other regions of the province we have to find ways to deliver these services more effectively. [...] These are things that the Minister of Health is determined to do and find ways to fund."