Ottawa

Here's what's in the 2018 federal budget for Ottawa

From the long-awaited funding for a new central library to big money to fix — and possibly replace — the beleaguered Phoenix payroll system, the 2018 federal budget includes a number of initiatives that directly affect Ottawa.

Budget unveiled Tuesday contains money for central library, NCC, Phoenix fix

'Very good news for this city' is how Mayor Jim Watson described the 2018-19 budget, which included federal money for a new Ottawa central library. (CBC News)

From the long-awaited funding for a new central library to big money to fix — and possibly replace — the beleaguered Phoenix payroll system, the 2018 federal budget includes a number of initiatives that directly affect Ottawa.

$73M for new central library

It's been a year since Ottawa city council approved a plan to build a new central library on municipal land just east of LeBreton Flats, but the federal government hasn't formally committed to partnering with the city until now.

The federal government is committing $73.3 million —  a couple million more than expected — for a super library that will see the Ottawa Public Library partner with Library and Archives Canada in a new 216,000-square-foot complex expected to cost $168 million.

The federal budget contains $73 million for Ottawa's new central library just east of LeBreton Flats. (Joanne Chianello/CBC)

"This is very good news for the city," said Mayor Jim Watson after the budget was tabled in the House of Commons Tuesday. "We actually got a little more than we were anticipating."

The announcement, while not a surprise, is a win for Watson, whose promise of a new central library was a 2014 campaign platform plank. The mayor met with Finance Minister Bill Morneau last month to make a last-minute pitch for the money to be in the budget.

Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna, who's the MP for Ottawa Centre, had also made a new central library a campaign promise.

A new central library was a campaign promise of Ottawa Centre MP Catherine McKenna, as well as Mayor Jim Watson. (CBC News)

"This partnering with Library and Archives Canada means that some of the stuff that's being mothballed in Gatineau — whether it's cultural artifacts, pictures, maps — we can actually showcase it," said McKenna.

The federal cash will be doled out to the city over the next six years, starting with $4 million in 2018-19.

The new central library is expected to be completed in 2023.

$55M for NCC

A National Capital Commission 2017 audit of the state of the capital's assets found the agency was far behind in repairs and upgrades of everything from buildings and bridges to pathways and parkways. The report found 27 per cent of its assets to be in fair, poor, or critical condition in 2016.

The federal government is handing over an additional $55 million over the next two years to the NCC to address "critical repair and maintenance work on its portfolio of fixed assets," according to the budget.

Some of the $55 million earmarked in the budget for the NCC could go to fixing Hog's Back Bridge. (CBC)

Among projects that may be on the list are the repaving of the Portage Bridge or the rehabilitation of the Hog's Back Bridge.

There was no word in the budget of any possible plans for 24 Sussex Dr., the prime minister's official residence, which has remained vacant since the Liberals were elected in 2015.

Billions to fix Phoenix, Shared Services

Among the single-biggest line items in the budget are fixes for two of the federal bureaucracy's back office problems: Phoenix and Shared Services Canada.

The failing Phoenix pay system, which has affected tens of thousands of public servants since it went live in 2016, keeps sucking up public money.

The federal government is sinking another $431 million over six years to fix the problem, bringing the money spent on the on-going effort to fix Phoenix to more than $900 million. 

Additionally, the budget has earmarked $16 million over the next two years to begin looking at an alternative to Phoenix, a measure called for by the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada.

The budget also includes an additional $2 billion for Shared Services Canada (SSC), which was started in 2011 to combine all the IT services of dozens of government departments, such as email and data storage, into one group.

SSC has been plagued by problems since its inception, including outages in access to key databases and Blackberry service. In August 2016, the chief statistician at Statistics Canada resigned to protest the negative effects of transferring IT services to SSC.

Morneau put almost $400 million of emergency money into the SSC in the 2016 budget and that money expires in March of this year.

The department had estimated that it needed $2 billion to modernize the government's technology networks by 2020.
The federal budget contains another $431 million over six years to deal with the failed Phoenix payroll system. (CBC)

National Housing Strategy cash starts flowing

Most cities, including Ottawa, were looking for money for affordable housing in this budget. There is some, but it's still unclear whether funds will flow fast enough for some municipalities.

The federal government unveiled the country's first national housing strategy last November. It calls for $40 billion in spending over the next 10 years, including money to be matched by provinces and territories.

Money to actually build or repair affordable housing units doesn't begin to flow until 2019-20, which is also an election year. The Federation of Canadian Municipalities, which was generally supportive of the budget, did criticize the government on this one point, writing in a statement that "this budget delays funding for critical repairs that are ready to go ahead.
Money to begin building affordable homes, like this 34-unit apartment building on Gardener Street in Ottawa, won't start flowing until 2019-20. (Google)

However, $332 million in previously announced funding for other housing initiatives — including rental subsidies — is earmarked for 2018-19. Some of that money will undoubtedly trickle down to Ottawa.

The only new money for housing in this budget is an additional $1.25 billion for a program that offers low-interest loans to builders of rental housing over the next three years. The popular program is supposed to support projects that "address the needs of modest- and middle-income households struggling in expensive housing markets."

The federal government expects the extra investment will spur the construction of 14,000 new rental units across Canada.

Opioids and cannabis

Cities have also been asking for money to help combat the opioid crisis and to deal with the legalization of marijuana.

The budget sets out an additional $231 million over five years, including one-time emergency funding of $150 million for provinces and territories for projects that improve access to treatment services. 

But the budget didn't have any additional money for cities to deal with marijuana. Instead, the budget referred to a recent deal that will see 75 per cent of the tax revenue from legalized cannabis sales go to provinces and territories.

"It is the federal government's expectation that a substantial portion of the revenues from this tax room provided to provinces and territories will be transferred to municipalities and local communities, who are on the front lines of legalization," according to the budget. 

Watson has already written to the Ontario premier for money to pay for additional policing costs related to legalized marijuana, which the Ottawa Police Service estimates will amount to at least $6 million a year.

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