Kitchener-Waterloo

What Waterloo region's political leaders want in the Ontario budget

Regional Chair Karen Redman and the mayors of the cities and townships in Waterloo region explain what they want to see in the Ontario budget.

Redman hopes province won't 'balance the budget at the expense of people in greatest need'

Municipal leaders in Waterloo region offer their thoughts on what they would like to see in the Ontario budget when it's tabled on Thursday. (Kate Bueckert/CBC)

The Progressive Conservatives are set to table their first provincial budget on Thursday afternoon.

CBC Kitchener-Waterloo asked each of the local mayors and Region of Waterloo Chair Karen Redman for the top three things they'll be looking for in the budget.

The city mayors asked for things such as a plan for two-way, all-day GO trains as well as green infrastructure funding. Meanwhile, the townships asked for stable funding from the province, access to a natural gas network and reliable internet.

Redman said she is looking for money for housing, transit, health and social services.

"I hope there will be funding for supportive housing as it is a key element in providing long term solutions to people living with mental health, addictions and who are currently street involved," she said.

She'd also like to see investment in public transit between Toronto and the region, calling that transit link a "fundamental economic issue for the region."

As well, she wants to see the province maintain funding for essential health and social services, including programs like child care, Ontario Works, Sunnyside home, paramedic services, and public health.  

"We hope the province doesn't try to balance the budget at the expense of people in greatest need in our community," she said.

Cambridge: Money for infrastructure, GO service and affordable housing

Cambridge Mayor Kathryn McGarry says there are four top priorities she'll be watching for in the budget:

  • A roll-out of the bilateral federal-provincial infrastructure funding, that includes a proposed funding stream for recreational and cultural infrastructure.
  • New money for affordable housing options to help the city address a backlog of people waiting.
  • A firm timeline for two-way, all-day go to Waterloo region, including the spur line to Cambridge through Guelph.
  • Funding for the University of Waterloo School of Architecture expansion

McGarry said other priorities for her include: flexible funding to address urgent mental health issues, a commitment to build new long-term care beds to help manage an aging population and "no downloading of services onto municipalities without proper funding commitments."

Kitchener: Transit and infrastructure funding

Kitchener Mayor Berry Vrbanovic provided a list of five items, including three needs and two wants.

On his needs list were:

  • Investments in two-way, all-day GO transit, Waterloo Economic Development Corporation and Communitech.
  • Proceeding with the federal-provincial infrastructure bilateral agreement already agreed to by the previous Liberal government that would see investments into green infrastructure as well as cultural and recreational infrastructure.
  • Moving forward with investments in affordable and subsidized housing. 

His wish list included money "for high-speed or higher speed rail" in addition to two-way, all-day GO trains, as well as money to grow the University of Waterloo's Health Sciences Campus in Kitchener.

Waterloo: Economic development and a climate change plan

Waterloo Mayor Dave Jaworsky said in his top priorities in the budget are:

  • Support for economic development. "What I think we need to look at is a way for growing Ontario," he said.
  • Infrastructure investment.
  • Focus on deficit reduction "in a very thoughtful and compassionate way."
  • As a bonus, he'd like to see plan to address climate change.

Climate change, he said, is important to everyone and "climate change adaptation is something that municipalities are having to do, to invest in their stormwater ponds, so we really need to take action on it."

Jaworksy said the budget will show how much the government is listening to municipalities.

"We'll find out more about how much they're able to listen to us on things like infrastructure investment," he said.

"66 per cent of infrastructure [in the province] is now owned by municipalities, which means you and I, and we need investments."

Townships: Internet, natural gas and stable funding

Wilmot Mayor Les Armstrong says he wants continued and stable funding from the government.

He said the township has been debt-free for more than four years, and they have the lowest tax increases in the region each year.

The township has a 10-year plan for upgrades and replacing infrastructure, but a problem could arise if upper levels of governments start cutting back on funding the townships rely on.

"Some of the funding that the province has talked about cutting back and started cutting back is stuff that we depended on," he said.

Woolwich Mayor Sandy Shantz agreed there's a need for a stable funding commitment "so we can plan our infrastructure renewal and upgrade programs."

As well, she said they want to see support for continued development charges, which are fees collected from developers. She said the township needs them to help pay for infrastructure.

Shantz also said support for affordable housing is high on her list.

North Dumfries Mayor Sue Foxton kept her list short and to the point.

"I am looking for the funding of high speed internet [SWIFT, the SouthWestern Integrated Fibre Technology], program for gas line extensions to the rural areas and infrastructure funding," she said.

Wellesley Mayor Joe Nowak also mentioned the need for affordable broadband support for the townships in a region known for its high tech companies.

He says people in Wellesley regularly ask him when internet services will be improved, adding broadband has become "an essential service" but many rural areas still don't have reliable internet.

"We have students out here that live in the rural areas that have to go into the library or Tim Hortons or wherever they can find some connection. We have a lot of businesses out here," Nowak said. "It would be good for them to expand their operations."

Nowak said the township would like to see funding for recreational opportunities that promote youth activity and involvement and money for water and wastewater infrastructure.

As well, there's a need for an expansion of a natural gas distribution network.

The provincial budget will be tabled at 4 p.m. ET. 

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