Federal budget delivers for Ottawa's tourism, public service sectors

The Liberal government’s massive spending budget unveiled Monday tackles everything from child care to climate change to affordable housing, but also contains good news for two of Ottawa’s largest employment sectors: tourism and the federal public service.

$1B tourism relief package includes money for major festivals, smaller events

Lee Fields & The Expressions perform at the 2019 Ottawa Jazz Festival. The federal budget unveiled Monday contains relief to help arts and cultural events recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. (@OttawaJazz/Twitter)

The Liberal government's massive spending budget unveiled Monday tackles everything from child care to climate change to affordable housing, but also contains good news for two of Ottawa's largest employment sectors: tourism and the federal public service.

Tourism is a direct beneficiary of this budget, with $1 billion in new spending allocated to reinvigorate the pandemic-ravaged industry.

While the government does not appear to have picked up on the tourism industry's idea to create some sort of credit to encourage Canadians to travel, it is earmarking $500 million for a tourism relief fund to help regional agencies adapt to post-pandemic times, and another $100 million for Destination Canada to push travel in the country.

$23M for NAC

The $1-billion package, most of which is to be spent over the next two years, also includes $200 million for major festivals — events like Bluesfest and the Ottawa Jazz Festival — as well as another $200 million for smaller community cultural events such as fall country fairs.

In addition to the tourism package, the government plans to pay out $300 million over the next two years through a recovery fund for the arts, cultural and sports sectors.

As well, the National Arts Centre (NAC), which the budget document says "plays a vital role in the career of many performing artists, singer-songwriters, dancers, playwrights, choreographers, actors, and directors from across the country," will receive $17.2 million to address the impact of COVID-19 on the Ottawa institution.

The NAC will receive an additional $6 million specifically to "support collaborations with equity deserving groups to help relaunch the performing arts sector."

No lift for Ottawa's airport

This budget isn't giving the Ottawa International Airport the lift it was hoping for to help recover from the pandemic, but it is looking ahead to "facilitate the safe restart of air travel."

An investment of $82.5 million in Transport Canada will help major Canadian airports improve their COVID-19 testing infrastructure.

Money has also been earmarked for the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority to acquire and operate sanitization equipment.

The departures level of the Ottawa International Airport is deserted in May 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Trevor Pritchard/CBC)

Public service to get a boost

The budget lays out a host of new projects that are sure to benefit the federal public service here in the capital.

The National Research Council's (NRC) Industrial Research Assistance Program is poised to get more money to help startups access intellectual property expertise, and to support thousands of small- and medium-size innovators across the country. There would also be investments in the NRC's Canadian Photonics Fabrication Centre.

Newly proposed programs and initiatives in departments including Employment and Social Development Canada, Statistics Canada and the Canada Revenue Agency will continue to keep public servants and government contractors in Ottawa busy. 

At Public Services and Procurement Canada, plans to continue modernizing the way the government buys goods and services include proposals to buy from more Indigenous and Black-owned firms.

Municipal transit and housing

The Liberal government had already announced additional infrastructure spending for municipalities, including $3 billion in permanent transit funding starting in 2026, and a doubling of the gas tax paid out to cities. 

The Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) had called for the gas tax money to be doubled over three years, but this budget only speaks to a one-time allocation. The plan will add about $57 million to Ottawa's coffers.

The budget also addressed affordable housing by adding an additional $1.5 billion in spending to the rapid housing initiative that the government announced last fall, for a total of $2.5 billion of spending on this new program.

It is also reallocating another $1.3 billion in existing funding that, with the new funding, would "speed up the construction, repair, or support of 35,000 affordable housing units."

One new program will help property owners transform underused office space into residential rental units.

With files from Julie Ireton and Robyn Miller

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