Ottawa

PC budget gives Ottawa police $2M to fight guns and gangs

The Ottawa Police Service is getting $2 million from the province to help combat guns and gang violence in 2019, but there's no guarantee the money will continue to flow in subsequent years.

'Boozy budget' also gives cities power to allow drinking in parks

Police investigate a report of shots fired at an apartment building in Ottawa's Carlington neighbourhood in August 2014. The provincial budget unveiled Thursday earmarks $2 million for the Ottawa Police Service to fight guns and gang violence. (CBC)

The Ottawa Police Service is getting $2 million from the province to help combat guns and gang violence in 2019, but there's no guarantee the money will continue to flow in subsequent years.

The guns and gang cash is one of the few mentions of new money earmarked specifically for Ottawa in Thursday's provincial budget, the first since the Progressive Conservatives formed government last spring.

This city's big ask to the provincial government was the $1.2-billion funding for Stage 2 LRT, an announcement made by Premier Doug Ford in Ottawa last month.

That commitment is highlighted in the big blue budget book along with other ongoing local projects, including CHEO's treatment centre and planning for the Ottawa Hospital's new Civic campus.

But there's also a number of new initiatives — and cancellations — that are of interest to Ottawa.

Combating gun violence

Mayor Jim Watson lobbied the premier last December for money aimed at reducing violence from guns and gangs. Ottawa saw a record-setting 76 shootings last year, which police believe to be largely gang-related.

The province recently announced $25 million over four years for Toronto to combat crime related to guns and gangs. For Ottawa, however, the money is committed for a single year.

The money should help the local police force make up its expected budget shortfall for 2019.

In a news release issued Thursday, Watson said "we trust that this amount will be made available to the City of Ottawa over the next four years as was announced for Toronto Police."

Ottawa police Chief Charles Bordeleau said Thursday that he appreciates the $2-million funding confirmation, and noted it was part of the force's 2019 budget.

Gas tax increase cancelled

The previous Liberal government had promised to double the amount of gas tax revenue transferred to municipalities by 2021, but the PC government says it "will not move forward" with that plan.

Ottawa expects to receive $36 million from provincial gas tax collection in 2019, which is largely spent on transit.

Under the previous Liberal plan — announced in the 2018 budget, released weeks before the provincial election — Ottawa's share would have doubled to more than $72 million.

It's unclear whether the city was banking on this extra money for its future transit plans.

Ontario Finance Minister Vic Fedeli presents the 2019 budget as Premier Doug Ford looks on at the legislature in Toronto on April 11, 2019. (Frank Gunn/Canadian Press)

Drinking in parks

Quickly dubbed "the boozy budget" by some, the government announced plans to make beer and wine available for sale in more locations, such as corner stores, and to allow tailgating parties, bars and restaurants to sell alcohol as early as 9 a.m.

The government will also give municipalities the power to allow drinking in public areas such as parks.

Ottawa city council, which has banned smoking of any kind in all parks, would have to approve any changes related to drinking alcohol in public spaces.

Hints of future funding cuts

Watson said earlier this week he was wary of any possible cuts to transfer payments to the city — money that the province gives cities to help them pay for all sorts of vital services such as land ambulances, public health, social housing and transit.

It's still unclear the exact value of the transfers in this budget — "The devil is always in the details," Watson said — but there are no obvious cuts to those payments.

There are, however, plenty of indications that transfers could shrink. The budget says that "growth in transfer payments has been unsustainable" and that the government will be looking for "greater efficiencies."

Also, by 2021-22, the government plans to cut $1 billion from child and social services, which could have an impact on the provincially funded services that the city delivers.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford, right, is seen sharing a laugh with Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson, left, as Ford confirmed the province's $1.2-billion contribution to Ottawa's LRT expansion in March. (CBC)

Municipal affairs, housing slashed

Among the hardest-hit departments is the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, which will see its spending cut by 25 per cent to $1.12 billion this year.

There's no money or specific plans in the budget for increasing affordable housing or the housing supply.

In Watson's statement, he said the city "remains committed" to working with provincial and federal governments "to eliminate chronic homelessness and help ensure everyone has a safe and affordable place to call home."

The PCs say they're expecting to release their Housing Supply Action Plan in coming weeks. Part of the plan appears to be reducing development charges — fees charged to buyers of new homes to pay for the costs of infrastructure in expanding communities.

If those fees are reduced, the city may have to make up the difference to pay for infrastructure such as water and sewer pipes, as well as "softer amenities" such as libraries and community centres.

Watson said the city will review the details of the Housing Supply Action Plan to better understand its affect on the city.

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