Ottawa·BUDGET 2017

What's in it for Ottawa-Gatineau

Federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau has unveiled his second budget. Here's a look at what it means for the National Capital Region.

LRT Phase 2, social housing in line for funding

Canada's Finance Minister Bill Morneau announces the date of the federal budget during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, March 7, 2017. (Chris Wattie/Reuters)

The 2017 federal budget introduces a number of measures that apply to all Canadians, such as money for retraining in technology jobs or allowing new parents to stretch out their parental leave over 18 months.

But some budget items will have a particular resonance for people here in Ottawa and the National Capital Region. Here are seven items worth noting:

Funding for LRT

The budget earmarks money to support "the next phase of ambitious public transit projects," and mentions, as an example, Stage 2 of Ottawa's Light Rail Transit project.
While the City of Ottawa has yet to reveal a firm launch date, Ottawa's Confederation light rail line is set to open sometime in 2018. (City of Ottawa)

But whether the city will get the $1.2 billion it's asking for wasn't spelled out in the document.

It was left to Mayor Jim Watson to clear up any doubt later on.

I've been assured that the funding, $1.15 billion we need to complete stage 2 of LRT, is in this budget.- Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson

"I've been assured that the funding, $1.15 billion we need to complete stage 2 of LRT, is in this budget," Watson told reporters Wednesday afternoon.

Watson said he'd received a call from the office of Infrastructure Minister Amerjeet Sohi on Tuesday promising the money.

"Now we have to work with our federal partners to cross the t's and dot the i's over the coming months, so we can hit the ground running in May of this year with the [request for proposals]. This is great news for our city's future," Watson said.

The amount indicates the federal government will split the cost of rail extensions to Trim Road and the Ottawa International Airport 50/50 with the province.

The budget allocates $20.1 billion over 11 years through agreements with the provinces and territories for ambitious public transit projects. But only about $3.9 billion of that funding is set to be spent over the next five years. Ottawa is in competition with municipalities across the country for those dollars. 

Elimination of public transit tax credit

Commuters who claim their OC Transpo pass as a tax credit won't be able to do so after June 30.

The government said the Public Transit Tax Credit was "ineffective in encouraging the use of public transit and reducing greenhouse gas emissions."

In practical terms, that means a rider who paid $113 a month for a yearly bus pass will be losing a tax credit worth about $203 a year.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson discussed housing and a national strategy to deal with the opioid crisis at the the Big City Mayors' Caucus in Ottawa in January. (CBC News)

Free ride over for Uber

For customers of companies like Uber, expect to see about 13 per cent extra on your bill, starting on July 1.

That's because the budget is proposing to amend the definition of a taxi business to require ride-hailing services such as Uber to follow the same rules for charging GST/HST as other taxi operators.

So Uber drivers will have to register for the GST/HST and charge it on top of their fares. 

National housing strategy

The federal government is taking a leadership role when it comes to spending on social housing and homelessness initiatives, and is taking greater control of the purse strings.

Mayors from Canada's big cities, including Ottawa, wanted the federal government to set aside $12.6 billion for social housing. The 2017 budget gets close, providing about $11.2 billion over 11 years for various housing measures, including:

  • $5 billion for a National Housing Fund run by the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation
  • $3.17 billion to provinces and territories for everything from building new units to fixing existing ones, and offering rent subsidies.
  • $2.1 billion for homelessness, and helping people get help for mental health issues and addictions.

Turning old federal buildings into social housing

As part of the new national housing strategy, the federal government is proposing to spend $202 million over 11 years to make surplus federal lands and buildings available to housing providers at low or no cost to develop affordable housing.
The City of Ottawa settles between 500 and 600 legal claims a year — for a total of $14.5 million in 2015. (Michel Aspirot/CBC)

This also includes a new plan beginning next year to provide money for environmental remediation, renovations or retrofits to make the buildings suitable as housing.

In cities with a disproportionate number federal buildings, such as Ottawa, the money allocated, while small, may have a bigger impact.

Naloxone tax exemption

The drug naloxone has become a subject of national and local interest here in the National Capital Region, given its use in treating opioid overdoses.

When it was available for prescription, it was eligible for GST/HST relief, but when the government removed the requirement for a prescription to make it more widely available the drug became taxable.

The budget fixes that, restoring its exemption from GST/HST by adding naloxone to the list of drugs that are used to treat life-threatening conditions.

More money for innovation

Imbedded throughout the federal budget is more money to spur innovative technologies, and much of that money is making its way either to or through federal departments, many of which are located in the National Capital Region.
Technology leaders meet at an event in Ottawa March 9th to hear Minister Judy Foote talk about the government's commitment to buy more Canadian tech services. (CBC)

For example, as part of the budget's clean energy plan, it's giving Natural Resources Canada and Transport Canada $229 million over the next four years to continue research and development activities in clean energy and clean transportation innovation.

The budget is also aiming to get more small and medium-sized companies to bid on government contracts, a move that could be a boon for local businesses.

It calls for the creation of an Innovative Solutions Canada fund to spend up to $50 million of procurement funding for departments to try innovative solutions from small and medium-sized companies.