No love for Liberal budget from opposition MPPs in northern Ontario
Liberal budget includes funding for ONTC, electricity rebates for industry
Northern politicians have been quick to react to the pre-election budget revealed yesterday by Ontario's Liberal government.
It promises widespread increases in services like health and child care, while putting the province in a $6.7 billion deficit.
Specifically for the North, the Liberals pledged $490 million dollars over 10 years to the Ontario Northland Transportation Commission to renovate its rails, bridges and trains, along with $85 million over three years in electricity rebates "to support businesses in the mining and forestry sectors."
The budget also includes mention of "working toward sustainable development in the Ring of Fire region" and that the government is working with First Nations communities to plan and construct a year‐round access road into the proposed development site.
In addition, the Liberals plan to spend $40 million over three years for new and existing child care programs
on‐reserve. They've promised they'll double capacity on First Nations communities by creating 4,500 new daycare spaces.
Opposition not impressed
Sault Ste. Marie's Progressive Conservative MPP Ross Romano says the province can't afford the deficit it would run under the Liberal budget, despite the services it would provide.
"I'm happy to see investments in northern Ontario. We must ask ourselves what cost these investments are going to come at? Giving us band-aids in one area doesn't resolve the overall impact the province is going to see with the level of deficits we're carrying," says Romano.
Vic Fedeli, the PC MPP for Nipissing, notes it's the Liberals who first discontinued ONTC passenger rail service. Now they're investing in it.
"They made it sound like this is some big pronouncement. All they seem to do with their infrastructure is stretch it out over more years so it sounds like a bigger number," says Fedeli.
He adds the Liberals are making the same promises surrounding the Ring of Fire as they were five years ago, with no results to show since then.
NDP Nickel Belt MPP France Gelinas says she believes northern Ontarians' biggest concerns have to do with healthcare.
She adds the Liberals' planned $822 million dollar boost for Ontario's hospitals — the largest such annual increase in a decade — isn't enough.
"Is it going to help? Yes, it's going to help stabilize what we have now, but we will still see people in bathrooms and we will still see people waiting a long time in the emergency room," says Gelinas.
But Liberal Sudbury MPP Glenn Thibeault is adamant his party's pre-election budget is a win for Northerners.
"This is a very good budget for Northern Ontario, from making sure we're caring from our seniors, to caring for our children, caring for families, caring for everyone, to seeing the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corporation (NOHFC) increase its budget over the next three years to come up to $150 million," says Thibeault.
Both the Progressive Conservatives and the NDP are expected to unveil their own pre-election platforms in the coming weeks.
Nipissing University political science professor David Tabachnick says what stands out is that the Liberals are clearly gearing up for a run against the Progressive Conservatives and their leader Doug Ford.
He also called it an interesting strategy to try to "outflank" the NDP in terms of spending on services.
"How much support (the Liberals) can get from those progressive conservative voters with this budget? I'm not so sure. Can they steal a bunch back from the NDP? That seems a little more likely," says Tabachnick.