WATCH ABOVE: Ontario looking to maximize value from government-owned assets in 2015 budget
TORONTO – The Ontario government announced a $2.6 billion boost to public transit funding over the next decade on Thursday for projects like enhanced GO Transit service and various light rail transit plans, bringing the total amount the government is spending to $31.5 billion.
What’s getting built?
A large portion of the government’s public transit plan includes the expansion of the GO Transit service and increasing train traffic to guarantee stops every 15 minutes at stations on key lines into Toronto from Bramalea, Barrie, Unionville, Oshawa, and Hamilton.
The enhanced GO Transit service forms the backbone of Toronto Mayor John Tory’s SmartTrack plan but funding for that plan hasn’t been dedicated.
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The mayor is relying, in part, on provincial and federal funding for his plan. Neither level of government has committed fully to the plan but has made money available for public transit projects. The federal government announced an annual $1 billion fund in its 2015 budget on Tuesday and the Ontario budget allocates money but only if the municipal and federal governments contribute as well.
The Ontario government is relying on additional funding for several projects beyond SmartTrack, in Stouffville, Kitchener, and Toronto.
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There’s $130 billion for infrastructure expenses over the next decade allocated in the 2015 budget with some projects well underway, including the Union-Pearson express, the Mississauga Transit Way, and the Eglinton Crosstown.
More than half of the $31.5 billion is earmarked for projects in the Greater Toronto Hamilton Area where gridlock costs the region nearly $11 billion each year and average commute times typically easily exceed one hour – among the lengthiest in North America.
What’s getting built outside the GTHA
Approximately $15 billion of the government’s public transportation fund is being spent outside of the GTHA including upgrades to Highway 7 between Guelph and Kitchener, Highway 417 in Ottawa, northern highways near Thunder Bay, a nearly $1 billion investment in the Ring of Fire, and an environmental assessment of high-speed rail connecting London, Kitchener, and Toronto.
How the government is planning on paying for this
Most of the revenue tools were announced prior to the 2014 budget, but a $4 billion chunk of the $31.5 billion comes from the government’s pending sale of Hydro One.
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NDP leader Andrea Horwath criticized the Liberal government for relying on asset sales to fund transit, calling the move “a short-sighted sell off of our public assets.”
The government is also planning on selling additional assets in order to generate another $1.7 billion but it doesn’t say what.
Jim Wilson, the interim leader of the Progressive Conservatives, made it clear Thursday his party wouldn’t be supporting the 2015 budget.
He went on to suggest the sale of government assets, like Hydro One, was risking future revenues.
“They’re trading short term gains for long term consequences. When you lose these assets, you lose the revenue they produce,” Wilson said. He said Hydro One contributed about half a billion dollars annually to Ontario’s coffers.
The other tools include dedicated funds from the provincial gas tax, repurposing the HST on gasoline and diesel, restricting corporation from claiming small business deduction, increases in aviation taxes, restricting some fuel-tax exemptions, federal contributions, and borrowing.