Exactly one month ago, Ontario's Progressive Conservatives, the province's opposition party, shared a plan they said was leaked to them. Laid out, day by day, were the various announcements and promises the Liberals intended to make in the lead-up to today's budget.
As April went by, the news releases flowed into journalists' inboxes and most of the promises on that calendar have been made in front of a microphone.
LISTEN | CBC TV and Radio One, 91.5 FM, in Ottawa have extensive coverage of the Ontario budget. That starts with live coverage from 4 to 5 p.m. on Thursday followed by reaction on All in a Day with host Giacomo Panico.
On Friday, Ottawa Morning host Hallie Cotnam talks to Premier Kathleen Wynne just after the 7:30 a.m. newscast followed by regular contributor, the Toronto Star’s Rob Benzie. Then at noon, Ontario Today has Kathleen Wynne taking calls live.
WATCH | Finance Minister Charles Sousa will appear on CBC TV News in Ottawa on Thursday with more details.
The government run by Premier Kathleen Wynne has announced a $2-per-hour raise for early childhood educators, 340 more breakfast programs in schools, in-vitro fertilization treatment for more women, an eventual end to the debt retirement charge on your hydro bill and roads and electricity to the Ring of Fire area in Northern Ontario, with its potential mining riches.
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Assuming for now Andrea Horwath and her New Democrats support the budget — Tim Hudak’s PC’s have already said they intend to vote it down — the minority Liberal government will get to live another while. So which of the announcements so far matter to Ottawa? And what more could we look out for in the hefty budget tome?
When it comes to the Liberals’ talk on job creation, many in Ottawa’s high-tech and business community like what they’re hearing. In a speech earlier this week, Wynne announced a $2.5 billion Ontario Jobs and Prosperity Fund would be created. More details are promised for budget day, but she did say she was after “good, well-paying jobs in the industries of tomorrow.” That sounds promising to a tech scene based on strong research and development skills.
In addition to the jobs fund, there was last week’s seven-year deal with software company OpenText. Ontario has negotiated a grant of up to $120 million for the company in exchange for it spending $2 billion to create 1,200 jobs in Ontario, some of which will come to Ottawa. Critics called that a subsidy for corporations.
Invest Ottawa excited for jobs fund
But Bruce Lazenby, the head of Ottawa’s economic development industry Invest Ottawa, considers it investment with a good return.
Lazenby said the province’s fiscal position isn’t great, but thinks the best way to grow its revenues is through highly paid workers paying income taxes and spending money. He says his is one of 1,200 economic development agencies on the continent, and each one is trying to lure companies and their jobs with incentives.
“It’s highly competitive and if we don’t play the game by the rules, we will lose,” said Lazenby. “Those thousand jobs will in fact go somewhere else.”
Another big promise was made mid-month to spend $29 billion over 10 years on public transit, roads and bridges. More than half that amount could go to the Toronto and Hamilton areas. But the rest of the province, Ottawa included, would share $13.9 billion. What proportion might go toward the second phase of Ottawa's big transportation plans?
Ontario is already putting up just under a third of the expected cost of building the main trunk of the city's new light rail system, which should open by 2018. But the second part of the plan calls for $2.5 billion to be spent laying track from Tunney's Pasture to Bayshore in the west, from Blair to Place d'Orleans in the east and sending the O-Train further south to Barrhaven. The City of Ottawa is looking for provincial help on that one.
There are a whole lot of other issues of concern to all Ontarians that would affect people here in Ottawa. The budget is supposed to contain details about the made-in-Ontario pension plan the Liberals have been talking about since a meeting with their federal counterparts last December.
Local groups want desires addressed
Ontario municipalities want action on the rising cost of policing. Ecology Ottawa would like to see funding for the Ottawa River Action Plan. Mayor Jim Watson said it's the city's top environmental budget request.
The Council on Aging of Ottawa, meanwhile, would like to see more help for low-income seniors and the user fees they struggle to pay for Meals on Wheels and support workers. The Ottawa-Carleton District School Board would like a way to make child care before and after school more affordable for low-income families.
As for that big line item, health, the government’s announcements in April continued their trend of moving care into the community and out of more expensive hospital settings.
It’s expected this will be a budget about spending and setting up for an election. Jonathan Malloy, chair of the political science department at Carleton University, expects the Liberals to try to outspend the New Democrats, which he sees as their greater foe.
Malloy says that could mean some budget tidbits will be geared at ridings where Liberals could be challenged by the NDP, such as Ottawa Centre.
We’ll just have to wait and see what Andrea Horwath has to say about this budget, and the Liberal government’s future, during her own turn at the microphone.