Sudbury

What the provincial budget means for northeastern Ontario

The new Ontario budget includes some new money for northern Ontario, lots of promises to study other big issues facing the region, as well as millions in cuts to provincial ministries important to the north.

Province promising to expand internship program, natural gas and broadband in the north

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

Ontario's finance minister says no frontline jobs will be lost when millions of dollars are cut out of provincial ministries important to the north.

The budget presented yesterday will see the Ministry of Energy, Northern Development and Mines allotted $566 million less in the next year.

The Ministry of Indigenous Affairs budget will go down to $74.4 million from $88 million. 

And the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry will be operating on $162 million less in the coming year.

"This isn't just about altering their budgets, this is transforming government, this is investing smarter, it's spending smarter. It's a complete modernization of government," says Finance Minister Vic Fedeli.

He says some of this streamlining could actually free up more money to be reinvested in frontline services.

Tara Maszczakiewicz, the regional vice-president for the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, says she knows of provincial workers in the north who are being offered retirement packages and not being replaced. 

She is waiting to see more on exactly where these dollars will come from. 

"I really think the devil is in the details with this government," says Maszczakiewicz, a social worker based in Sault Ste. Marie. 

Finance Minister Vic Fedeli says his government is still studying how to bring back passenger rail to northeastern Ontario, as promised during the 2018 election campaign. (Ontario Northland)

Fedeli's first budget as finance minister includes a whole section on northern Ontario, but much of it was already announced, including a new mining working group.

The Nipissing MPP says for him the northern highlights include an expansion of an internship program aimed at addressing a skilled trades shortage in the region and a plan to extend natural gas service to as many as 78 northern communities, including First Nations.

He says the budget does also include a commitment to draw up a forestry sector strategy and to "continue to end delays" with the development of the Ring of Fire mineral deposit in the far north. 

The new Ontario budget pledges $315 million over five years to expand broadband cellular services, which some in the north say isn't enough. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

There is mention in the budget of restoring passenger rail to the northeast, which was cancelled by the previous Liberal government, but at this point it is just a promise to study the issue further. 

"It can't be the same thing that failed. It has to be something that's bigger and better," says Fedeli. 

"That's going to be a promise made and a promise delivered."

Danny Whalen, the president of the Federation of Northern Ontario Municipalities and a city councillor in Temiskaming Shores, says he was hoping to see more money for northern transportation.

He says he was pleased that it wasn't the "slash and burn" budget many were expecting and he was also happy to see $315 million over five years to expanding broadband cellular service to rural areas. 

"That's not a lot of money, but it's a start. This is probably the first time we've actually seen dollars in a budget for it," says Whalen.

The Ontario government is creating a child care tax credit which will see about 300,000 families get an average of $1,250 per year. (CBC)

One of the crown jewels of this budget is a child care tax credit, which will see 300,000 families receive an average of $1,250 per year.

But Laura Falvo, who runs the Montessori daycare in Sudbury, says this plan just encourages people to put their kids in unregulated home daycares, instead of in the system that the government's been creating over the last decade.

"It is putting money into parents' pockets, but it's also not creating accessible, affordable, quality child care," says Falvo. 

"I would rather have seen him put the money into the child care we currently have."

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