Key Waterloo region issues left out of Ontario budget, local leaders say
No new funding for two-way, all-day GO or affordable housing in 2019 budget
Waterloo region was notably absent from the provincial government's 2019 budget, with no new funding or details on key issues like housing, health care, or two-way, all-day GO service.
Ontario's Progressive Conservative government unveiled its first budget on Thursday, with a promise to reign in the province's deficit within five years.
Cambridge Mayor Kathryn McGarry says she's disappointed her city — and Waterloo region — weren't even mentioned once in the nearly 400-page document.
McGarry had hoped to see a firm timeline and more funding for two-way, all-day GO service to the region.
"That includes the potential Cambridge connection to GO rail service through Guelph," McGarry said in an interview with CBC News.
"We're looking to the end of that feasibility study in 2019 and we were hoping to see a budget that contained an investment to assist us to build that GO rail corridor."
Instead, the budget highlighted previous changes made by the government, including the cancellation of the freight rail bypass and additional service on the morning and afternoon runs along the Kitchener line.
Lack of funding for affordable housing
Region of Waterloo Chair Karen Redman told CBC News she was also looking forward to a definitive announcement on GO service in the region, noting that "the vast majority" of transit funding seemed to focus on the Greater Toronto Area.
"I'm disappointed that the approach seems to be incremental, when the reality is we can prove anecdotally and substantively that we're missing a lot of potential benefit and attracting talent and investment locally [because of] our lack of connectivity to the whole innovation corridor," she said.
Both Redman and McGarry also commented on the lack of new funding for affordable and supportive housing.
McGarry said she was surprised to see so much focus on regulations related to alcohol, while housing received comparatively little attention.
"I think that speaks to some of the priorities that we feel have been perhaps overlooked for Cambridge residents, who are recognizing that affordable housing is a huge need for our community," she said.
Economic incentives, broadband good news for region
One thing McGarry is happy to see in the budget is $3.8 billion in corporate income tax relief over the next six years.
She said the money, which will be provided through the Ontario Job Creation Investment Incentive, is good news for businesses in Cambridge looking to expand or make upgrades.
Redman said the government's commitment to improving broadband service is also good news for more rural parts of the region.
According to the budget, the province "plans to invest $315 million over the next five years in regional and shovel‐ready projects."
North Dumfries Mayor Sue Foxton said she was also pleased to see broadband highlighted and is hoping for more details in the coming weeks and months.
She also said she wants to hear more on improving access to natural gas in rural areas.
"I still have a lot of faith in the firm funding for broadband and a lot of faith that the program for Union Gas will also come to fruition," Foxton told CBC News.
'Booze, tailgating and gambling'
Guelph MPP and Green Party leader Mike Schreiner said the budget speaks volumes about the government's priorities.
"Budgets are about the kinds of values and priorities government have and this budget is clearly focused on booze, gambling and tailgating, and not on the big issues the people of Ontario are confronting," Schreiner said.
He points to GO transit, housing affordability, health care, climate change and cuts to education as some of his constituents' key concerns.
"I know when I knock on doors, I haven't had a single person say to me that we need tailgate parties or we need a new license plate or we need easier access to gambling."
Schreiner said he hopes to see more details on issues like all-day, two-way GO and housing in the budget implementation bill.