Repeat budget sets the stage for LRT meeting with province

The Ontario Liberals table their déjà vu budget Monday, which, sets the stage for a much awaited summit between the province and Hamilton politicians over rapid transit funding.

The Ontario Liberals table their déjà vu budget Monday, which, sets the stage for a much awaited summit between the province and Hamilton politicians over rapid transit funding.

The budget, not surprisingly, provides no more clarity on possible transit funding than the city than what the Grits presented May 1, which triggered last month’s election.

The $130-billion budget was identical to the one opposition parties rejected in May, which included $15-billion in transit funding for the GTA and Hamilton area.

It does not say if it will fund a light rail transit (LRT) in Hamilton, or if the system will partially or fully funded.

The LRT project, currently pegged at $800 million in the Rapid Ready transit plan from the City of Hamilton, will be the subject of a meeting with the new transportation minister on July 25.

The mayor’s office confirmed the meeting would take place, but it remains unclear if it will be public or private, and which councillors are invited.

The mayor’s chief of staff, Peggy Chapman, said the meeting between Bob Bratina and newly minted transportation minister Steven Del Duca would be private, but include some councillors.

Meanwhile, Ward 4 councillor Sam Merulla said the meeting would be open. In either case, the Rapid Ready plan will be on the agenda when the Grits come to town. 

As for the provincial budget, The Progressive Conservatives and New Democrats still don't like it, but with the Liberals holding the majority of seats in the legislature, there's no doubt the fiscal plan will be approved.

Finance Minister Charles Sousa says the budget invests in a highly educated and skilled workforce and public transit expansion, while keeping spending under control.

But the Tories don't believe the Liberals can keep their promise to eliminate a $12.5-billion deficit in three years.

They warn that failing to meet short-term deficit targets will result in an expensive downgrade in Ontario's credit rating.

Interest on the nearly $290-billion  debt is over $11 billion a year, the fourth-largest expenditure item in the budget after health, education and child and social services.

The budget also includes $29 billion for public transit and infrastructure.

It also promises a made-in-Ontario pension plan for workers who don't have a pension, which will require contributions from both employers and workers.

The Liberals also promise to spend $2.5 billion in grants for companies that create jobs in Ontario.

The NDP warn the budget paves the way for the "wholesale sell-off" of provincial assets such as Ontario Power Generation, Hydro One and the Liquor Control Board, but the government says it will retain majority ownership of each agency.

There will also be a higher tax for Ontarians making over $150,000.

Other promises in the budget include $1.4 billion over the next decade to expand and upgrade hospitals and $11 billion over 10 years to repair schools.

There is also one billion dollars set aside to develop an access road or rail line into the remote Ring of Fire mineral deposit in northern Ontario.

With files from the Canadian Press


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