Federal budget delivers on local needs, say city leaders

Municipal leaders in Waterloo region say the federal government's latest budget delivers on many of the items they've been asking for the past year and a half, including social housing, daycare and new money for the area's booming tech sector.

Budget targets social housing, daycare spaces, infrastructure, skills training and innovation

Finance Minister Bill Morneau tables the federal budget in the House of Commons on Wednesday, March 22, 2017. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Municipal leaders in Waterloo region say the federal government's latest budget delivers on many of the items they've been asking for the past year and a half, including social housing, daycare and new money for the area's booming tech sector. 

Federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau delivered a budget Wednesday that included immediate tax hikes on alcohol and tobacco but also targeted spending increases on infrastructure, social housing, daycare, as well as innovation and skills training. 

"It really is reflective of the kinds of things we've been saying to the government for the past 18 months," Kitchener Mayor Berry Vrbanovic told CBC News Thursday.

"When I say 'we,' ... it's the Federation of Canadian Municipalities on behalf of all Canadian cities or the kinds of things we've been saying locally as local government or the tech and innovation centre."

Vrbanovic said he was particularly pleased to see an $11 billion investment in community housing over the next 11 years from the federal government. 

"Housing investment, we need to move forward on this," Vrbanovic said. "We can't continue to be in a world where we've got a 3,000 family waiting list backlog."
The budget "really is reflective of the kinds of things we've been saying to the government for the past 18 months." (Tiffany Pope / CBC)

Transit subsidy changes

On public transit, Vrbanovic said he likes the move away from from a population-based formula for transit systems by the federal Liberal government. 

"That works great for cities like Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, not so much for places like Waterloo region with growing transit systems," he said.

Instead, the Liberals have proposed 70 per cent of transit funding for cities will be based on ridership with 30 per cent based on population, which Vrbanovic notes favours municipalities like Waterloo region. 

"I think from the municipal point of view there's lots in there for municipalities," Region of Waterloo Chair Ken Seiling told Craig Norris on The Morning Edition Thursday.

"It's stretched out over the next ten years or so and I think the proof's in the pudding for how it actually rolls out, but on face value, it bodes well for the kinds of things municipalities are going to be doing in the future."
Regional chair Ken Seiling says he's pleased to see more money from the feds on childcare and social housing, but "I think the proof's in the pudding for how it actually rolls out." (Ken Seiling/Twitter)

'Never enough money'

In particular, Seiling said he's encouraged to see a new federal commitment from the Liberals in the form of an $11 billion investment in community housing and a promised $7 billion for childcare. 

"There's never enough money when it comes to getting the cost of childcare down," Seiling said, noting the feds are looking to create some 40,000 childcare spaces over the next three years across the country. 

He also said if the federal government comes through on its proposal to extend leave for new parents from one year to 18 months, it could help ease the burden on municipally subsidized daycare for infants. 

"One of the great pressures right now in daycare is the infant care," Seiling said. "It's very, very expensive to provide and if in fact this extended parental leave results in more parents being able to stay home longer, that takes some pressure off."
Kitchener-Conestoga Conservative MP Harold Albrecht is quick to point out much of the Liberals' $81.5 billion infrastructure pledge has already been announced. (Amanda Grant/CBC)

Half of spending old news

The combined $18 billion pledge over the next decade, for both social housing and childcare, is part of a wider $81.5 promise from the federal Liberals on infrastructure, half of which, critics point out, has already been announced. 

"Where the actual dollar amounts are flowing to, they keep talking about these announcements, but many of these announcements have already been announced," Kitchener-Conestoga Conservative MP Harold Albrecht told CBC News Thursday. 

Albrecht also expressed his concern over the growing size of the federal deficit, which the Liberals pledged they would limit to $10 billion dollars during the 2015 election. 

Wednesday's budget revealed the federal deficit this year is $23 billion, with a $28.5-billion deficit projected for the 2017-18 year – both higher than projected by the Liberals in the fall.

"We can't keep spending with no plan to come back to balance," Albrecht said. "You can't keep borrowing money." 

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