Thirty-billion-dollar deficit aside, the federal budget delivers on spending that Toronto could really use.
Finance Minister Bill Morneau’s first budget, titled Growing the Middle Class [PDF], is receiving a fair dose of criticism for its projected $29.4-billion deficit (triple what Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised in his campaign for office), with no plans of getting out of the red in the foreseeable future.
But Mayor John Tory and some city councillors are surely salivating over the prospect of federal assistance in areas such as public transit and affordable housing.
— Justin Trudeau (@JustinTrudeau) March 22, 2016
Leading up to the budget, Trudeau promised big spending on infrastructure, split between public transit, green infrastructure, and social infrastructure. On Tuesday, the new funds earmarked for infrastructure came in at $60 billion to be spent over 10 years, bringing the total infrastructure budget to $120 billion, starting with $11.9 billion in new dollars to be spent over the next five years. It’s an encouraging pledge that will support much-needed infrastructure retrofits and new builds across the GTA.
Here, we look at what new infrastructure spending, and other federal funds, could mean for Toronto.
The budget sets aside $3.4 billion for transit infrastructure over the next five years. Almost $1.5 billion of that will go to Ontario, which is home to 44 per cent of all transit users in Canada—the biggest ridership in the country. The government will fund up to 50 per cent of all eligible transit projects, which in Toronto would go toward “fleet replacement, including the purchase of new subway cars, low-floor buses, and street cars by the Toronto Transit Commission,” the document states.
During a campaign event in Woodbridge, Ont. back in October, Trudeau promised to help fund SmartTrack, Tory’s oft criticized $8-billion transit plan. At the time, it was expected that the feds would pitch in at least as much as the $2.6-billion pledge former PM Stephen Harper made in June; however, there was no specific mention of SmartTrack in the budget, which suggests Trudeau may have wised up about it.
Also missing from the transit budget is sufficient funding for Via Rail to build a $3-billion passenger corridor between Toronto, Montreal, and Ottawa. The government is offering just $3.3 million over the next three years for the project, which would increase the number of trains on the route from six to 15.
The feds are giving affordable housing a $2.3-billion boost spread out over two years. To start, they’ve committed to double federal funding for the Investment in Affordable Housing initiative, bringing it to $261.6 million in 2016-17 and $242.8 million in 2017-18. “Under this initiative,” the document reads, “provinces and territories match federal investments and have the flexibility to design and deliver programs that are tailored to address local housing needs and pressures.”
Under this program, social housing for seniors will get $200.7 million, however provinces and territories won’t be required to match those funds.
The budget also promises $504.4 million over the next two years specifically for repairing old, and building new, affordable housing, plus $573.9 million for energy-saving retrofits in social housing buildings.
Ana Bailão (Ward 18, Davenport) welcomed the government’s funding for affordable housing, which Council is eager to put towards Toronto Community Housing’s $2.6 billion capital repair backlog. “I am pleased that the federal government has recognized that investing in social housing repairs is not only the right thing to do, but the smart thing to do,” said Bailão, who sits on the TCHC board and chairs the City’s affordable housing committee. “These investments will help create thousands of jobs, provide much needed economic stimulus, increase tax revenues, reduce health care costs, and decrease greenhouse gas emissions.”
Bailão also praised the government’s promise to create a national housing strategy—something Canada hasn’t had since 1993—and its commitment to reallocate $30 million for two years to help support social housing providers whose long-term operating agreements with the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) are poised to end. The agreements, many of which expire in 2020, funnel federal money to municipal social housing providers in order to subsidize rent-geared-to-income units. “This additional support would be provided on a time-limited basis until long-term approaches to help the social housing sector achieve self-reliance can be developed through consultations with provinces, territories and stakeholders,” the budget reads.
As promised, Trudeau is allocating more money to help middle- and low-income parents raise their kids. The budget is setting aside up to $6,400 tax-free annually per child under six, and $5,400 for children six to 17. Families with a net income below $30,000 will receive the maximum amount under the Canada Child Benefit. Unlike the previous government’s childcare benefits, it doesn’t matter if the child has one or two parents. It also doesn’t include the Children’s Fitness and Arts credits, which predominantly went to kids whose parents earned over $100,000.
In a city where parents can pay up to $20,000 a year for a single space at a licensed daycare, the changes offer much needed financial relief for many Toronto moms and dads. The plan comes into effect on July 1, and is expected to cost $22.4 billion over five years.
One of the few budgets specifically earmarked for Toronto is $10 million for the Invictus Games. Earlier this month, Prince Harry announced that in 2017, Toronto will host the international multi-sports event for wounded, sick, and injured veterans and soldiers. The games will welcome 600 military competitors from 16 countries to the city, and will coincide with Canada’s 150th birthday. The Liberals will roll out funding to help organize the event starting with $4 million this year and $6 million in 2016-2017.
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