BUSINESS

Federal Budget Offers 'Crumbs' For Transit Needs: Ontario Finance Minister

04/21/2015 06:13 EDT | Updated 06/21/2015 05:59 EDT
TORONTO - Ontario's Liberals were quick to express disappointment Tuesday at the federal budget, saying the money Ottawa is promising for transit projects amounts to "crumbs" compared to the needs of Canada's largest province.

"When it comes to transit, they've kind of missed the train, and they're not even in the station," Finance Minister Charles Sousa said shortly after his federal counterpart introduced the budget in the House of Commons.

The federal budget promises a new infrastructure fund that allocates $750 million over two years, followed by $1 billion a year "ongoing thereafter."

"The amount that's being brought forward, frankly, is only crumbs of what we need," Sousa said.

The Liberal government has pledged to spend $130 billion on infrastructure over 10 years, $31 billion of which will go toward transit infrastructure.

The province has been calling on the federal Conservatives to match its infrastructure investment, but Ottawa's election-year budget provides only a "small step in the right direction," said Sousa.

The new fund doesn't kick in until 2017-18 — the same year the provincial Liberals have promised to eliminate Ontario's $10.9-billion deficit.

After the initial two years of the transit program the money will rise to $1 billion a year, "ongoing thereafter," to help finance public-private partnerships, or P3s, to pay for projects and upgrades with a combination of public and private investment.

The budget comes the same day that Ontario announced it would spend $1.6 billion — without help from Ottawa — to build a light rail line linking the Toronto-area communities of Mississauga and Brampton.

Ontario had also asked the federal government to match its $1-billion investment in infrastructure in the Ring of Fire, which holds one of the world's richest chromite deposits as well as nickel, copper and platinum, valued at anywhere from $30 billion to $60 billion.

There was no reference to the Ring of Fire in the budget other than a minor $20-million fund, Sousa said.

"That is a slap in the face," he said. "We are here to try to find ways to invest and position ourselves for the future, not for the next election."

Sousa will unveil his own budget Thursday, when he said he will lay out the path to balance by 2017-18 — a target many analysts and critics are skeptical can be met.

Ontario will not achieve balance by relying on a contingency fund and revenue from sales of General Motors shares, Sousa suggested.

Federal Finance Minister Joe Oliver projects a $1.4-billion surplus for 2015-16, but the government's rainy-day contingency fund — usually a robust $3 billion — will be just $1 billion until 2019. And $2.1 billion from the sale of Ottawa's remaining shares of GM has been applied to the bottom line.

Ontario allocated the money it got from the sale of its GM shares to infrastructure.

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