Federal budget 2016: What Toronto wants and what it might get
'Cities like Toronto need this investment... to keep growing and stay humane,' Mayor John Tory says
Toronto Mayor John Tory will be paying close attention as the Liberal government unveils its first budget in Ottawa Tuesday, to see if the city can count on federal funding for the city's most pressing needs.
"Cities like Toronto need this investment... to keep growing and stay humane," Tory told CBC News Monday.
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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, during a visit to New York last week, said his government's first budget will fund some "unsexy" projects, something that bodes well for Toronto, where money is needed for public transit and social housing repairs.
"The first two years we're going to do the unsexy things that governments hate to announce," Trudeau told a business audience in Manhattan. "Recapitalization of infrastructure. Maintenance upgrades. The things you don't get to cut ribbons and announce shiny new buildings on."
Tory said he likes what he's hearing, but warned nobody knows what will be in the budget until it's released.
"We're confident that we've been listened to and that there's going to be some significant support for transit and housing in particular in the budget," Tory said.
Finance Minister Bill Morneau, who represents a downtown Toronto riding, will deliver the budget to the House of Commons tomorrow at 4 p.m. ET.
Morneau has already said the government plans to run a deficit that will actually be more than the $10 billion deficit Trudeau promised during the election campaign. A large portion of that is expected to be spent on infrastructure, while there will also be money for clean technology to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, help for middle-class families, students, First Nations, education and housing.
Ahead of the budget reveal, Tory said he expects the city will be able to allocate any federal funding it gets to the projects it believes are its biggest needs.
"We're hoping to see some confirmation of some additional funding with some greater flexibility in it," Tory said.
That means being able to spend federal dollars to ease the $2.7 billion TTC repair backlog, for example.
During his campaign, Trudeau said his party was "fully committed to the federal share" of SmartTrack, the $8-billion transit plan pitched by Tory.
In June, former prime minister Stephen Harper pledged $2.6 billion for Tory's SmartTrack plan. The expectation has been that Trudeau will follow through with at least the same figure.
Tory said he hopes Trudeau's emphasis on cities during the election campaign will translate to a substantial financial commitment in the budget.
"Cities are the economic engines of the country," Tory said. "Given that Toronto is the largest city in the country and has the largest transit ridership for example, this means tens and tens and tens of millions of dollars potentially."
The city is also seeking power over how it uses federal money to address social housing projects.
"One of the things we didn't have in the past is the availability to use federal funds for repairs," Toronto housing advocate Coun. Ana Bailão told CBC News earlier in January.
Earlier this year, Bailão, along with Tory, took Infrastructure Minister Amarjeet Sohi on a tour of Regent Park, where federal money combined with provincial dollars contributed to a revitalization project that's now in its final phase.
Subsidized housing providers, including the city's largest provider Toronto Community Housing, face some of the most pressing needs for repairs.
"Building affordable housing is absolutely critical, but it's not just that, we must repair the homes we've got — that families are living in now — or they may have to be displaced," Toronto Community Housing spokesperson Lisa Murray told CBC News last month.
Sohi and Trudeau have said they are committed to spending $60 billion on infrastructure during the next decade.
The first phase of that plan was announced in January in Toronto. Sohi said then that the focus will be on a "deferred maintenance backlog," for Canada's crumbling infrastructure. The minister said then that the plan doesn't mean the government won't fund new projects, however.
CBC News will host a budget special anchored by Peter Mansbridge with Rosemary Barton on CBC Television, CBC News Network and on cbcnews.ca. You can watch a livestream of Morneau's budget speech on cbcnews.ca on Tuesday at 4 p.m. ET.